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CORPORATE EARNINGS

FedEx Corp., the world's largest cargo airline, reported Thursday that first-quarter profits fell 36 percent, in part because the flat economy weakened demand in the manufacturing and high-tech sectors for its premium services. Company officials said they're unsure how the disruption of air deliveries in the wake of last week's terrorist attacks and the economy's response to the strikes on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon will affect the company's next quarter. Along with the rest of the nation's airlines, FedEx planes were grounded for two days and international deliveries were restricted until Saturday. The Memphis-based package delivery company reported net earnings of $109 million, or 36 cents per share for the fiscal quarter that ended Aug. 31. That compares with profits a year ago of $169 million, or 58 cents per share. The results exceeded analysts' expectations of 31 cents per share, according to a survey by Thomson Financial/First Call. The first-quarter profits included a non-cash charge of 5 cents per share related to the adoption of new accounting standards. FedEx reported revenue of $5.04 billion, up 5 percent from $4.78 billion during the first quarter of 2000.

American Greetings Corp. posted a second-quarter net loss Thursday, but the results were better than analysts had predicted. For the quarter ended Aug. 31, the greeting card company lost $35.7 million, or 56 cents per share, compared with a net loss of $35.5 million, or 55 cents per share, for the same period last year. Sales in the quarter amounted to $488.2 million, down 1.1 percent from $493.7 million in the year-ago period. Excluding a special charge of $7.5 million after taxes, or 12 cents per share, primarily for costs related to its restructuring plan, the company reported a $28.2 million loss from operations. The operating loss amounted to 44 cents per share. The Thomson Financial/First Call analysts consensus was for a loss of 48 cents.

Nike Inc. reported better-than-expected first-quarter earnings on Thursday, beating Wall Street estimates. But as with most American companies, the Beaverton, Ore.-based athletic footwear and clothing giant is digging in for months of uncertainty after last week's terrorist attacks. First-quarter net income was $199 million, or 73 cents per share, including a charge for accounting changes that equaled 2 cents a share. Analysts polled by Thomson Financial/First Call had expected Nike to post earnings of 71 cents a share. Revenue was $2.6 billion, down about 1 percent from last year. Domestic shoe sales continued to decline slightly, but U.S. apparel revenues increased 7 percent.

Paychex Inc., the second-largest U.S. payroll processor, reduced its revenue-growth estimate for the current fiscal year, citing the slowing U.S. economy and interest rate cuts. Sales will rise 13 percent to 15 percent in the year ending May 31, less than the company's previous estimate of 16 percent to 18 percent, Chairman Thomas Golisano said in a statement. A portion of Rochester-based Paychex's revenue comes from interest on funds that Paychex holds for clients who use its direct-deposit and tax-filing services. Net income in the fiscal first quarter rose 20 percent to $70.2 million, or 19 cents a share, from $58.6 million, or 16 cents, a year earlier. Sales in the quarter ended Aug. 31 rose 15 percent to $234.8 million from $203.9 million. Paychex, which said it added new customers, increased prices and sold more services to clients in the quarter, met the average estimate of analysts polled by Thomson Financial/First Call.

ConAgra Foods, strengthened by new food brands and more marketing of its products, on Thursday reported a 57 percent increase in first-quarter profits. Net income was $188 million, or 36 cents per share, compared with $120 million, or 25 per share, in last year's first quarter. The multifoods giant's sales rose nearly 8 percent to $7.6 billion in the quarter ended Aug. 26. The results surpassed analysts expectations of 28 cents per share, according to Thomson Financial/First Call. The company said it benefited from its acquisition of International Home Foods late in last year's first quarter, which included major brands like Chef Boy Ardee, Pam and Bumble Bee Seafood.

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