Wellman experienced wider losses on higher sales during the fourth quarter, but the polyester producer did manage to cut its losses for continuing operations.

During the three months ended 31 December, the net loss attributable to common shareholders expanded to US$52.9m, or $1.65 a diluted share, from a loss of $47.4m, or $1.50 a share, in the 2005 quarter.

The bulk of the red ink, however, was attributable to discontinued operations as the loss from continuing operations was reduced to $21.8m from $43.8m. Sales expanded 12.9% to $324.5m from $287.3m.

"In light of our 2006 results and the difficult business environment, we have made the strategic decision to focus on our chemical-based PET resin and polyester fibre business," said Tom Duff, chairman and chief executive officer of the Shrewsbury, NJ-based firm.

"This will allow us to capitalise on our two world-class facilities which utilise some of the latest technology to produce high-quality, value-added products."

He noted that the firm decided to dispose of its European PET resins business in the fourth quarter and thereby classified it and anticipated losses as part of its discontinued operations. The company is working with the investment bank of Downer & Co to explore options for the European fibres business.

"These actions are intended to allow us to improve our operating results, generate cash to pay down debt and provide the highest possible return to our shareholders," Duff concluded.

According to Keith Phillips, chief financial officer, debt was reduced by $23m in the quarter, with further reductions expected as a result of the firm's strategic direction.

For the full year, net loss attributable to common stockholders grew to $126.8m, or $3.97 a diluted share, from a loss of $74.1m, or $2.34 a share, in 2005. Net sales grew 2% to $1.33bn from $1.31bn.

By Arnold J Karr.