Revenue, earnings decline

Ladson-based armored vehicle maker Force Protection Inc.

Mary Ann Chastain

Force Protection Inc. had a quiet first quarter, announcing double-digit revenue and earnings declines Tuesday.

The Ladson-based company, which makes armor-plated military vehicles designed to withstand powerful explosions, reported sales of $138.4 million during the first three months of the year, a 25 percent drop from the same period a year ago. Net income fell 85 percent to $1.1 million, or 2 cents a share.

Chief Executive Officer Michael Moody described the three months that ended March 31 as a "building quarter."

"We knew going into the year that the quarterly results would be uneven due to the timing of awards and shipments and other factors," Moody said during a conference call with analysts.

Other company officials echoed that, saying they expected the first quarter to be the lowest in terms of revenue in 2010. Moody predicted that "the tempo" will pick up this year in Afghanistan, where the company recently opened new operations in Bagram and Kandahar.

Force Protection employs about 450 workers abroad who service, fix and upgrade its deployed military vehicles.

Still, the U.S. military hasn't been cycling vehicles into Afghanistan as quickly as it has been withdrawing them from Iraq, said Randy Hutcherson, chief operating officer.

The slower demand caught company officials off guard.

"It hasn't been at the pace we expected it to be," said spokesman Tommy Pruitt, clarifying Hutcherson's statements after the conference call.

Force Protection expects to finish building between 100 and 150 more of its Cougar vehicles, the company's best-selling model, this year.

Before earnings were released Tuesday, the company announced a $24 million contract to provide 30 more Cougar trucks to the Marine Corps. And at the end of Tuesday's call, Force Protection said it just received an order for 60 of its Buffalo models from the Army.

Both of those orders, which are due next summer, will be made at the company's 800-worker Ladson manufacturing site on U.S. Highway 78.

Force Protection released its financial results after the close of U.S. stock markets, which fell sharply Tuesday. The company's shares ended the day down 5.8 percent at $5.32.

Reach Katy Stech at 937-5549 or kstech@postandcourier.com.