Chief executive Mike Anderson expressed satisfaction with The Andersons' improved share price and vowed to continue to seek opportunities to boost sales and profit.
"We're gratified by the market's approval of the results we've delivered and hope to keep that going," he told employees and investors at the annual shareholders meeting of the Maumee-based agribusiness giant.
The meeting, which drew about 70, was moved this year to a renovated meeting room at corporate headquarters from a hall at an Andersons' family residential compound. The move was made because of better acoustics at the firm's offices, Mr. Anderson explained later.
During the meeting, he pointed out that the share price has slipped slightly to $17 after rising to $20 last year. Counting share appreciation and dividends, the value of shareholders investment in the firm rose 28 percent last year after climbing 30 percent the prior year and 19 percent in 2001, Mr. Anderson noted.
Ticking off a list of already-completed expansion projects, including the addition of a grain-storage elevator, opening of meat departments in some retail stores operated by the firm, and enlargement of a fertilizer plant in Lordstown, Ohio, Mr. Anderson said: "Growth is high on our agenda."
Officials will focus this year on continuing to "digest and integrate" the largest acquisition in the firm's history - the $91 million purchase of 6,700 rail cars.
The deal makes the $1.3 billion-a-year firm one of the 10 largest providers of rail cars in the nation, Mr. Anderson said after the meeting. It also doubled the size of the firm's rail unit, which started leasing cars to firms for transporting grain but which now serves other industries, including plastics and glass. Today, the company leases nearly 14,000 rail cars for periods ranging from a day to a decade.
Among factors that are contributing to improved company performance is a better farm economy, he said. For example, because grain prices have increased, farmers are buying more of the firm's fertilizer, the CEO explained.
Sales last year rose to $1.25 billion from $1.1 billion the year before.
Operating income increased, although the firm's bottom line was down slightly because of a restatement of earnings that required it to re-assign some first-quarter profit to the prior year.
The company expects to record profit of $1.40 to $1.65 a share in 2004, he said, adding that that would be consistent with recent results.