Ball had a full year net profit of $229.9 million (€185.4m), against sales which increased by more than a billion dollars to $4.98 billion. This figures compared favourably to 2002 figures when Ball reported net earnings of $156.1 million and sales of $3.86 billion.
Fourth quarter 2003 net profits were $55.3 million, or 97 cents per diluted share, compared to $28.7 million, in the fourth quarter of 2002. Sales in the fourth quarter of 2003 were $1.19 billion, compared to $910.2 million in the fourth quarter of 2002.
R. David Hoover, chairman, president and chief executive officer, said the addition for the full year 2003 of Ball Packaging Europe, which was acquired in December 2002, and record performance from Ball's aerospace and technologies segment were key contributors to both sales and profit increase for 2003.
"Ball Packaging Europe exceeded our expectations despite some unique and difficult challenges, and we are pleased with their solid performance in their first full year with Ball," Hoover said.
Ball's international packaging segment includes results from Ball Packaging Europe and the company's majority-owned operations in China. Operating earnings for the segment were $158.6 million, including $3.3 million of business consolidation gains in China, in 2003 on sales of $1.13 billion. In the fourth quarter, operating profits were $35.3 million on sales of $251.6 million.
"Warm, favourable weather throughout the summer season in much of Europe and the continued growth of the beverage can in eastern and southern Europe partially offset the negative effects of Germany's law imposing deposits on cans and certain other beverage packaging sold in the country," Hoover said.
Speaking about the problems faced in Germany, Hoover said that the company had had to close one plant there, delayed planned production increases and revised shipping patterns to counteract the reduced demand for cans, which was estimated at 2.2 billion cans.
Ball added that it plans to begin construction in 2004 on a new beverage can plant in Belgrade to serve the growing demand for beverage cans in Southern Europe and North Africa. The company also announced future plans to build a beverage can manufacturing plant in Cairo, Egypt.
The company's operations in China continued to show improvement as a result of a major restructuring that began in 2001 and was essentially completed in 2003.
The performance in the North American division was not as impressive as that seen internationally, though modest gains were made in both sales and profit levels. For the full year 2003 operating profits of $282.9 million were reported on sales of $3.31 billion, compared to $294.9 million on sales of $3.24 billion in 2002.
The company said that the US market had remained flat largely because of pricing pressures on metal food cans and start up costs for new facilities.
With regards the outlook for the company, Hoover said he was hoping to push earnings per share by 10 to 15 per cent. He also emphasised that future growth in the Eastern and southern European markets, as well as China, should help to boost the international division in the year ahead.