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Graham Corp. earned a first-quarter profit for the first time in four years, even though its sales were down by 4.5 percent, the Batavia-based company said Friday.

The manufacturer of vacuum and heat transfer equipment said it earned $66,500, or 6 cents per share, during the first quarter, compared with a loss of $212,000, or 20 cents per share, a year ago. Graham now has been profitable for four straight quarters.

The company's sales fell to $14.22 million from $14.9 million a year earlier.

Being able to turn a profit despite the drop in sales may suggest "that the vigorous steps we began taking a year ago to return to profitability have had an effect," said Frederick D. Berkeley, chairman and chief executive officer.

Graham last year took steps to cut its costs and improve efficiency. The company also aggressively promoted its products and tried to find new markets for them.

The company also received nearly 4 percent more in new orders during the first quarter than it did a year ago.

Graham said its new orders rose to $18.8 million, which was up from $18.1 million a year ago but down from $19.4 million during the fourth quarter of last year.

"Although we cannot predict whether the current level of new orders can be sustained through the year, the level of new orders so far is encouraging and may be an indication of a returning vitality in our markets," Berkeley said.

Graham's backlog of orders stood at $29.9 million at the end of March, which was up from $25.5 million at the end of last year but down from $32.5 million a year ago.

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