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CHICAGO, April 24 (Reuters) - CNH Global NV , one of the world's largest makers of tractors and combines, said on Thursday its quarterly loss narrowed from a year ago as it controlled costs and rolled out new products.
The maker of Case IH and New Holland brand equipment said industrywide sales were weaker than expected in the quarter. The farm equipment sector has struggled through a four-year slump as large crops and and weak export demand have reduced commodity prices and hurt farm income.
But CNH, formed by the 1999 combination of Case Corp. and New Holland N.V., said it still expects to post a profit in 2003, before restructuring charges, after three years of losses. Since the merger, the company has focused on integrating the two businesses and reducing debt.
CNH reported a first-quarter net loss of $46 million, compared with a net loss of $49 million a year ago.
The net loss per share was 35 cents per share, including restructuring charges of 5 cents per share. Per share results were retroactively restated to reflect a reverse stock split on April 1.
Analysts on average had expected the Lake Forest, Illinois-based manufacturer to report a loss of 28 cents a share, according to Thomson First Call.
Total net sales rose to $2.28 billion in the quarter from $2.24 billion a year ago.
CNH said it expects restructuring charges to total about $325 million before tax in 2003.
For the second quarter, the company forecast slightly improved income from a year ago excluding charges.
CNH said it closed a $2 billion debt-for-equity exchange with majority shareholderS.p.A. at the start of the second quarter that reduced the company's equipment operations debt-to-capitalization ratio to 26 percent.
Shares of CNH fell 20 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $8.48 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange.