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DULUTH, Ga. — Thanks largely to stronger new and used light-vehicle unit sales, revenues and gross profits, along with a trimmed cost structure, Asbury Automotive Group enjoyed what its president and chief executive officer called a "solid" fourth-quarter financial performance.

Its income from continuing operations was $5 million, up from a loss of $352.3 million in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Officials explained that tax items cut the most recent quarter's income from continuing operations by $0.03 per diluted share, which increased the company's effective tax rate to 46.2 percent in the period.

The company noted that non-core items reduced the 2008 fourth-quarter income from continuing operations by $11.05 per diluted share.

Net income for the most recent quarter was $200,000, up from the $369.7 million loss in the fourth quarter of 2008.

Executives explained that during the 2009 fourth quarter, Asbury incurred a $0.14 per share loss in discontinued operations, which were due largely to asset impairments.

For the fourth quarter of 2008, Asbury incurred a $0.54 per diluted share loss in discontinued operations attributable largely to goodwill and asset impairments.

Moving on, quarterly revenues in the final period of 2009 were $898.6 million, a gain of 2.1 percent.

Officials said this upward revenue movement was due largely to stronger new and used revenues during the fourth quarter of 2009.

Same-store new light-vehicle retail revenue was up 4 percent from the same period of 2008, while same-store new light-vehicle gross profit was up 17 percent.

On the used side, same-store light-vehicle retail revenue was up 12 percent, and same-store used light-vehicle gross profit climbed 15 percent.

"Asbury is pleased to announce solid financial results for the fourth quarter driven primarily by growth in new and used light-vehicle units, revenues and gross profits coupled with a leaner cost structure," stated Charles Oglesby, Asbury's president and CEO.

"Our ability to generate increased profitability this quarter, compared to the fourth quarter of last year, demonstrates the continuing benefits of our cost-savings initiatives as well as the strength of our portfolio of brands and geographies," he added.

However, the company said the heavy truck side of its operations was still struggling from troublesome conditions in the economy, especially the challenges that have plagued home-building and construction sectors. In fact, there has been roughly a 40-percent dip in U.S. Class 8 truck sales in the last two years.

Asbury's new heavy-truck revenue in the fourth quarter was down 33 percent year-over-year. This is due mostly to inventory losses, Asbury saw its heavy-truck business lose $1.6 million (on a pre-tax basis) in the final period of the year. For full-year 2009, the heavy-truck side of the business showed a pre-tax loss of $1.8 million.

The prior year, there was pre-tax profit of $3.5 million.

Moving to discuss overall full-year results for the company, Asbury's income from continuing operations in 2009 totaled $24.2 million. In full-year 2008, there was a loss of $323.4 million.

Officials noted that non-core items softened full-year 2009 income from continuing operations by $0.09 per diluted share. For full-year 2008, non-core items reduced income from continuing operations by $11.12 per diluted share.

As far as liquidity, Craig Monaghan, Asbury's senior vice president and chief financial officer, noted: "The company's liquidity position remained strong as of Dec. 31, with total available liquidity of approximately $243 million, including $85 million of cash and credit facility borrowing availability of approximately $158 million.

"The company repurchased over $7 million in subordinated debt during the fourth quarter and has no material debt maturities scheduled until 2012," he added. "We are pleased that the board of directors, at its meeting last week, has reauthorized the company to repurchase up to $30 million in debt over the next 12 months. Clearly, our financial position has strengthened over the last year."

Continuing on, Oglesby added: "Asbury has dramatically improved its operating performance in 2009 compared to 2008 despite a 21-percent drop in SAAR over the same period. The company reduced operating costs by $87 million in 2009 compared to 2008, allowing Asbury to keep its selling, general and administrative expenses as a percentage of gross profit flat despite a 17-percent decline in revenues.

"I am thrilled with how quickly this company responded to the challenges we faced in 2009 and I am excited about the opportunities we will encounter in the future," he continued. "Thanks to the dedication and commitment of our employees, we believe the company is well-positioned to generate significantly improved earnings as sales volumes recover."