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GM reports profit but still struggles in North America

General Motors Corp. reported third-quarter profits of $552-million Thursday, but executives said GM's North American automotive operation continued to lose money.

GM's earnings per share of common stock were 40 cents for the quarter, compared with a loss of 49 cents for July through September last year, when the company reported a net loss of $113-million.

President Jack Smith said GM continued to benefit from strong market demand for its new cars and trucks, but third-quarter profit was repressed partly by the company's inability to build as many cars and trucks as people wanted to buy.

NORTHWEST AIRLINES CORP. The nation's fourth-largest carrier said third-quarter earnings soared 54 percent to record levels, surpassing even its best full-year results, on strong domestic demand, Bloomberg Business News reported. Northwest said net income rose to $170-million, or $1.80 a share, from $110.7-million, or $1.45, a year earlier.

FLORIDA PROGRESS CORP. The parent of St. Petersburg-based Florida Power Corp. reported third-quarter earnings of $75.1-million, or 80 cents a share, on revenues of $745.0-million. In the year-earlier period, Florida Progress earned $82-million, or 93 cents, on revenues of $768.9-million. Frequent afternoon thunderstorms lowered hot temperatures and reduced electricity demand in the period, compared with last summer when customers used record amounts of power, the company said. Also, costs associated with recently announced staff reductions at Florida Power depressed results, as did a decision to withdraw as an equity partner from a gas pipeline project.

CHECKERS DRIVE-IN RESTAURANTS INC. The Clearwater-based fast-food chain Thursday reported a sharp drop in third-quarter earnings, the company's third consecutive poor profit performance. Earnings were $387,000, or 1 cent per share, down from $4.1-million, or 9 cents per share, in the same quarter in 1993. Revenues increased 18 percent to $47.4-million, up from $40-million. Through the first nine months of fiscal 1994, the company has essentially broken even by earning 0.00 cents a share.

FLORIDA STEEL CORP. The Tampa company said Thursday that net income for the quarter ended Sept. 30 was $5.2-million, compared with a net loss of $1.0-million for the year-ago quarter. Net sales for the current quarter increased to $167.2-million, compared to $148.3-million for the prior year period.

FIRST FINANCIAL BANCORP INC. The Perry-based savings and loan with offices in Pasco and Hernando counties said earnings fell in the quarter ended Sept. 30 to $319,000 from $729,000 in the same period of 1993. The thrift said the decline was related to investment losses. For the fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30, First Financial earned $1.77-million, up from $1.64-million in the previous year.

VILLAGE BANK OF FLORIDA. The Tampa-based bank said it posted profits for the third quarter of $184,345, a 66 percent gain from $111,133 a year ago. The bank, with assets of more than $90-million, operates four offices in Hillsborough County and two offices in Pasco County.

SEARS, ROEBUCK AND CO. The retailer said Thursday its third-quarter earnings fell 6.4 percent, largely because of additional earthquake damage claims at its Allstate insurance subsidiary. Sears reported net income of $363.5-million, or 91 cents a share, for the three months ended Oct. 1, compared with $388.4-million, or 98 cents a share, for the same period in 1993.

IBM. The computermaker earned

$710-million in the third quarter, much more than financial analysts had expected. Chairman Louis Gerstner Jr. said the company was moving to a "second phase" of its recovery from a prolonged slump. That recovery has centered on cost cuts, work-force reductions and other balance-sheet improvements. After preferred dividends, IBM's profit amounted to $1.18 per common share in the three months ended Sept. 30. A year ago, IBM lost $48-million, or 12 cents per share after preferred dividends, in the same quarter.

OUTBACK STEAKHOUSE INC. The Tampa-based restaurant chain Thursday reported a 44 percent increase in third-quarter earnings. Earnings rose to $9.6-million, or 22 cents per share, up from $6.7-million, or 15 cents a share, in the same quarter last year. Revenues increased $115.8-million, up from $80-million.