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Sales improved in all regions of North America and from most customer industries. Applied experienced especially strong increases in demand from the industrial machinery and equipment, primary metals, lumber and wood products and chemical sectors.
"These financial results, among the best in our company's history, reflect operating improvements we have implemented over the past several years," said Chairman and CEO David L. Pugh. "As sales increases from a rebounding economy in the fourth quarter exceeded our initial expectations, we benefited from additional operating leverage that magnified the impact on our bottom line. In particular, our efforts to control expenses and manage assets led to significantly higher operating margins and returns for both the fourth quarter and the full year.
"We ended our fiscal 2004 with a strong balance sheet. Inventories are well controlled, debt levels remain low and a cash balance of nearly $70 million provides Applied flexibility to pursue opportunities for profitable growth and enhancements to shareholder value.
"Looking ahead, we expect to see year-over-year sales increases in the range of 9% to 11% for the first quarter, and between 5% to 7% for the second quarter. We expect sales increases will moderate in the second half, primarily because of comparisons to strong sales in the third and fourth quarters of fiscal 2004. At this point, we see fiscal 2005 sales totaling between $1.57 billion and $1.61 billion."