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A surge in refinery work fueled a nearly 10-fold surge in Graham Corp.’s fourth-quarter profits, shattering Wall Street forecasts.

With sales surging by 53 percent because of a tripling in its revenues from refinery projects, Graham’s profitability strengthened sharply because of the increased volume and improved sales of more-lucrative replacement parts.

James R. Lines, Graham’s president and chief executive officer, said the company “delivered solid results while operating in what, to date, has been a modest market recovery.”

But Lines also said he expects Graham’s energy and petrochemical markets to strengthen in the long run, with the company bidding on $750 million to $1 billion in projects over the last year – more than double the bidding activity it faced at a comparable stage in the 2004-2005 economic recovery.

Much of the bidding activity is in the energy industry, and Lines said many of the projects appear to have funding.

“Our bidding activity remains elevated,” Lines said during a conference call Friday. “I continue to believe this is a positive sign” for the company’s future order flow.

But that bidding activity may not immediately translate into sales. Graham said its sales during the current fiscal year could fall by 5 percent or rise by 10 percent to $100 million to $115 million, with its overall profitability roughly on par with last year. The revenue forecast is less than the $117.5 million in sales analysts were expecting.

Graham’s profits during the fourth quarter jumped to $4.1 million, or 41 cents per share, from $429,000, or 4 cents per share, a year ago. The earnings were much stronger than the 31 cents per share that analysts were expecting.

Most of the strength came from a surge in sales, which jumped to $30.9 million during the quarter that ended in March, compared with $20.3 million a year earlier. The stronger sales volume helped make those revenues more than twice as profitable as its workload during the fourth quarter of last year.

Graham’s revenues from refinery projects, which accounted for 44 percent of the company’s fourth-quarter revenues, more than tripled, while its sales for power and other commercial projects each jumped by around 25 percent. Chemical and petrochemical industry sales dropped by 20 percent – a decline Lines blamed on project timing.

Despite Lines’ long-term optimism about its potential workload, Graham’s new order bookings tumbled by 39 percent during the fourth quarter from last year’s unusually strong level, bolstered by a surge in nuclear power and refining projects. Its order flow was 5 percent stronger than during the third quarter.

Lines said how successful the company is in booking new work through September will be the driving factor in determining where Graham’s sales fall within its forecasted range this year. If bidding efforts turn into orders quickly, it could drive up Graham’s revenues during the current fiscal year, but if they come in slowly, they may not come in fast enough to impact revenues this year.

“We do expect order rates to pick up; however, they likely will be choppy,” Lines said. “It’s an awkward point in time for us.”

The fourth-quarter surge capped a year of modest growth for Graham, whose profits grew by 6 percent to $11.1 million during the 12-month period, while sales inched up by 2 percent to a record $105 million.

email: drobinson@buffnews.com