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CORPORATE EARNINGS

FleetBoston Financial Corp., parent of Fleet Bank, said its third-quarter earnings fell 21 percent as the company struggled through another weak quarter in its capital markets business. Profits totaled $766 million, or 70 cents a share, in the July-September period, down from $969 million, or 87 cents a share, a year earlier. Earnings growth in retail banking, Latin America and the company's small business division as well as cost-cutting did not offset a drop of $239 million, or 22 cents per share, in the capital markets division, which includes Principal Investing, investment bank Robertson Stephens and discount brokerage Quick & Reilly. Those divisions made $176 million in the third quarter last year but lost $63 million this year. FleetBoston's non-performing assets rose to 1.22 percent of total loans on Sept. 30, up from 0.90 percent a year ago. The bank lost $325 million in uncollectible loans, about the same amount it did in the year-earlier period. Revenue fell 18 percent to $3.47 billion in the quarter, but the bank cut expenses 17 percent to $1.9 billion.

KeyCorp, parent of Key Bank, said its third-quarter earnings increased to $249 million, or 58 cents a share, compared with $121 million, or 28 cents a share, a year earlier. Earnings from operations were $249 million, or 58 cents a share, up slightly from $245 million, or 57 cents a share, a year earlier. The bank eliminated 445 jobs, or 2 percent of its staff, in the third quarter, helping to reduce expenses by 13 percent compared with a year earlier. Over the past year it has eliminated 1,160 jobs, or 5.2 percent of its work force. Non-interest income -- revenue from fees and service charges -- rose 12 percent to $454 million. Net interest income -- what the bank makes from lending -- rose 5.8 percent to $724 million, as lower interest rates increased its net interest margin, the difference between what it earns on loans and pays on deposits. Non-performing assets, including loans flagged as unlikely to be repaid, rose 48 percent to $913 million in the third quarter. The bank wrote off $116 million in bad loans, 12 percent higher than a year earlier.

Citigroup, the nation's largest bank, said third-quarter profits fell to $3.18 billion, or 61 cents per share, from $3.48 billion, or 67 cents per share, a year earlier. Operating income at the New York-headquartered bank was $3.26 billion, or 63 cents per share, compared with $3.53 billion, or 68 cents per share, a year earlier.

J.P. Morgan Chase & Co. said weaker investment banking performance and losses on private equity investments helped sharply reduce profits in the third quarter. Net income at the nation's second-largest banking company totaled $449 million, or 22 cents per share, in the July-September period, down from $1.40 billion, or 69 cents per share, a year earlier. Operating income was $1.04 billion, or 51 cents per share, compared with $1.42 billion, or 70 cents per share a year ago.

Sprint Corp., the third-largest U.S. long-distance phone company, said third-quarter earnings fell 60 percent because of a drop in calling prices and increased competition. Profit in the quarter fell to $154 million, or 18 cents a share, from $384 million, or 43 cents, a year ago. Sales declined 4.5 percent to $4.2 billion.

Ford Motor Co. had a third-quarter loss of $692 million because the second-largest automaker cut production and offered zero-percent financing to draw car buyers into showrooms. The loss of 38 cents a share, which compared with year- earlier net income of $888 million, or 53 cents, includes the cost of Ford's plan to sell its company-owned dealerships. Sales declined 9 percent to $36.55 billion.

Apple Computer reported a 61 percent drop in fourth-quarter profits Wednesday, but it still beat Wall Street's expectations. For the three months ended Sept. 29, the company reported net income of $66 million, or 19 cents per share, compared with $170 million, or 47 cents a share, in the year-ago quarter. Excluding a one-time investment gain, the company earned $65 million, or 18 cents per share. Wall Street analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial/First Call predicted earnings of 16 cents per share. Revenue for the quarter reached $1.45 billion, down 22 percent from the year-ago period.

AOL Time Warner, the world's biggest media company, had a larger third-quarter loss of $996 million because of acquisition-related costs, investment write-downs and a 5 percent decline in advertising sales. The loss widened to 22 cents a share from $902 million, or 21 cents, a year ago. Sales rose 6 percent to $9.32 billion as a 13 percent gain in subscription revenue tempered lower ad sales.

Advanced Micro Devices posted a third-quarter loss of $186.9 million as the chip maker suffered the effects of a price war with rival Intel Corp. For the three months ended Sept. 30, the company lost 54 cents a share, compared with a profit of $17.4 million, or 5 cents per share in the same period a year ago. Excluding one-time charges, the company lost $97 million, or 28 cents per share, compared with net earnings of $219 million, or 70 cents per share, a year ago. Revenues fell 22 percent, to $765.9 million from $985.3 million.

Texas Instruments swung to a loss in the third quarter as orders and revenue fell due to weak demand for electronic devices. TI posted a net loss of $117 million, or 7 cents per share, compared with profits of $676 million, or 38 cents per share, in the year-earlier period. Excluding one-time items, the company lost $57 million, or 3 cents per share. A year earlier, the semiconductor company earned $589 million, or 33 cents per share. Revenue fell 41 percent to $1.85 billion from $3.15 billion a year earlier.

Hughes Electronics Corp. reported sharply lower third quarter earnings Wednesday, primarily due to one-time charges from recent layoffs and losses relating to its investment in a Japanese satellite broadcaster. The company, a division of General Motors Corp., reported a net loss of $227.2 million compared to a loss of $93.8 million for the same quarter last year. In the quarter, revenue increased almost 25 percent to $2.10 billion from $1.68 billion a year earlier.

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