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CORPORATE EARNINGS

Fleet Financial Group's earnings rose 10 percent in the third quarter, lifted by newly acquired NatWest Bancorp, which added higher-yielding loans and lower-cost deposits to its balance sheet. Fleet said Wednesday that net income for the three months ended Sept. 30 was $295 million, up from $268 million the same period a year ago. The bank earned $1.02 per share, up from $.96 cents. Chief Financial Officer Eugene McQuade said the balance sheet restructuring and acquisition of NatWest increased net interest income to $934 million in the third quarter, up from $772 million a year ago. Fleet's net interest margin, or the difference between its cost of funds and the interest rate it pays on deposits, rose to 5.01 percent from 4.76 percent. For the first nine months of the year, Fleet financial earned $836 million, or $2.91 per share, up from $748 million, or $2.69, a year earlier.

Bausch & Lomb Inc. said profits plunged 67 percent in the third quarter, weakened by sluggish sales of sunglasses, restructuring costs and lawsuit losses. The company said it earned $14.4 million, or 25 cents a share, down from $43.5 million, or 75 cents a share, in the same period last year. Sales edged up to $477.2 million from $476.8 million.

Sears, Roebuck & Co. said its third-quarter earnings jumped 22 percent to an all-time high, boosted by strong sales and higher profit margins. The company said it earned a record $279 million, or 68 cents a share, in the third quarter, compared with earnings of $228 million, or 56 cents a share, a year ago. Sales rose to $9.07 billion from $8.44 billion.

Conrail said Wednesday its third-quarter earnings rose 19 percent from a year ago, boosted by higher freight traffic. Conrail, which announced an $8.4 billion merger with CSX Tuesday, reported that its net income in the third quarter rose to $138 million, or $1.74 per share, from $116 million, or $1.44 a share. Sales were $933 million from $923 million. Freight traffic volume rose 4.2 percent for the third quarter and traffic rose in two of Conrail's four service groups. Volume was up 1.3 percent since the beginning of the year.

CSX Corp. said Wednesday its third-quarter earnings rose about 10 percent from a year ago despite high fuel costs and bad weather during the period. The transportation company earned $222 million, or $1.04 a share, in the quarter, up from $202 million, or 96 cents a share, in the same period last year. The 1995 per-share amount was adjusted to reflect the 2-for-1 split of the company's stock that was distributed to shareholders in December 1995. Sales were $2.65 billion, up from $2.6 billion a year ago.

AMR Corp., parent company of American Airlines, said earnings rose about 3.4 percent to $282 million or $3.06 per share in the third quarter, compared with $229 million or $2.96 per share after one-time charges of 5 cents in the same period a year ago. Revenues rose 2.8 percent to $4.56 billion from $4.46 billion.

Continental Airlines reported profits of $18 million for the quarter. That represented an 84 percent decrease from the same period last year, but only because of the one-time charges. The Houston-based airline recorded a $77 million after-tax charge to replace some of its aircraft. It also recorded a $6 million after-tax extraordinary charge to pay off debt early. After deducting special charges, the airline earned 25 cents a share. That compared to $111 million, or $1.34 cents a share, for the July-September period in 1995. Revenues were $1.67 billion, up from $1.52 billion a year ago.

Apple Computer Inc. defied Wall Street on Wednesday, returning to profitability in the fourth quarter, a period that had been expected to mark the company's fourth straight quarterly loss. Apple earned $25 million, or 20 cents a share, for the July-September quarter, far outstripping analysts' expectations of losses as deep as 52 cents a share. The results were 58 percent lower than the company's earnings of $60 million, or 48 cents a share, a year ago. Revenue fell 23 percent to $2.32 billion from $3 billion but was up $142 million from Apple's third fiscal quarter. The profit included a special gain, but even without it the company would have had an $8 million profit.

Compaq Computer Corp. said third-quarter profits rose 43 percent on a 25 percent sales increase. Profit was $350 million for the period ended Sept. 30, compared to $245 million for the same quarter last year. Earnings per share were $1.26, compared with 89 cents. Sales rose to $4.5 billion, compared with $3.6 billion a year ago.

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