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Astronics posts strong gains in profit, sales

Astronics Corp. posted its strongest quarterly profits in more than three years during the fourth quarter as its $13 million acquisition of an aircraft electronics systems maker in Washington caused its sales to more than double.

The East Aurora maker of aircraft lighting and electrical power systems' said its sales soared by 146 percent as the acquisition of Astronics AES accounted for almost two-thirds of the revenue increase.

Astronics' profits jumped to $1.1 million, or 13 cents per share, from a loss of $658,000, or 8 cents per share, a year ago. Sales shot up to $20.4 million from $8.3 million, buoyed by $7.9 million in revenues from Astronics AES and a 51 percent improvement in sales from its existing business.

"They're turning the corner," said Christopher Carosa, the manager of the Bullfinch Greater Western New York Series mutual fund, which owns a small stake in Astronics. "They've done quite well and, hopefully, they'll get some recognition for that."

The fourth-quarter profits were better than Astronics President Peter Gundermann had predicted when he warned in November that its earnings would be "somewhat weaker" than they were during the third quarter. Instead, the company's profits were a third higher than they were during the previous quarter, while sales were virtually the same.

Gundermann said he expects the company's profitability this year to be in line with the levels of the last two quarters, while sales are forecast to rise by between 13 percent and 20 percent to $85 million to $90 million.

But Gundermann also warned that Astronics performance this year will be difficult to predict because of the potential for changes in the timing of when some of the company's major aircraft programs move into production. If its programs move into production smoothly, Astronics' earnings could be even stronger, while delays or reduced demand could cut into its shipments this year.

"Any one program getting delayed generally doesn't hurt a lot," he said. "It's more when you start hearing about three or four getting delayed."

Gundermann also noted that industry forecasts on demand for business jets vary widely. "This is not a slam dunk. There are differences of opinion within the industry on how successful these programs will be," he said. "We obviously pursue programs that we think will be winners, but a lot of our performance in the future will depend on how right we are."

Astronics' commercial transport sales grew more than fivefold to $8.7 million because of the Astronics AES acquisition. Sales from Astronics' military business jumped by 146 percent to $8 million, while its business jet sales grew by 14 percent to $3 million.

The company's booked $37.9 million in new orders during the quarter, 87 percent more than during the third quarter. Much of that increase is due to a $12 million project from Air Canada to install a power system in about 100 of its passenger jets that will let passengers plug their laptops and other electronic devices into their seats.

The company's backlog of orders grew by 23 percent during the quarter to $95.1 million, compared with $77.6 million at the end of September.

e-mail: drobinson@buffnews.com

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