Vehicle interior specialist Lear Corporation achieved earnings per share of 70 cents in the first quarter of 2002, up 32 percent from Q1 2001's adjusted basis.

For the first quarter of 2002, Lear posted net sales of $US3.5 billion, operating income of $141.0 million and net income of $46.4 million, or $0.70 per share.

These results compare to net sales of $3.5 billion, operating income of $134.6 million and net income of $14.5 million, or $0.22 per share in 2001.

Excluding non-recurring items and goodwill amortisation, Lear had adjusted operating income of $138.8 million and net income of $34.3 million, or $0.53 per share in the first quarter 2001.

"We are encouraged to see overall economic conditions and vehicle production improving in North America," Lear president and chief executive officer Bob Rossiter said.

"We are well-positioned to capitalise on improving automotive industry conditions."

Net sales for the quarter were about even with a year ago, reflecting higher vehicle production in North America and the addition of new business, offset by lower vehicle production in Western Europe and South America and the unfavourable impact of foreign exchange.

Operating income was up slightly in the quarter and affected by similar factors.

Earnings per share in the current quarter were $0.70 compared with $0.53 in the first quarter of 2001, excluding non-recurring items and goodwill amortisation.

This improvement reflects substantially lower interest expense and higher operating earnings, as the company continued to generate cash and reduce debt.

In February 2002, Lear issued zero-coupon convertible senior notes, yielding gross proceeds of $250 million. These proceeds were used to reduce borrowings under revolving credit facilities. This financing had the impact of providing cost effective medium-term financing and increasing the company's overall financial flexibility.

For the second quarter, Lear anticipates net sales to be up slightly compared with a year ago, reflecting higher vehicle production in North America, offset by lower production in Western Europe. The company expects earnings per share in the range of $1.05 to $1.15. Capital spending will be about $100 million, and free cash flow is expected to be about $25 million.

For the full year, Lear estimates North American vehicle production volume to be between 15.4 million and 15.8 million units and Western European production volume to between 15.5 million and 16.0 million units.

At these production levels, the company expects earnings per share in the range of $3.80 to $4.20. Full year capital spending is anticipated to be about $300 million.