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May 10, 2013 | last updated May 10, 2013 11:11 am 93 COMMENTS

Verso Paper cites high natural gas costs in first quarter loss

Verso Paper Corp. (NYSE: VRS), which has mills in Jay and Bucksport, on May 9 reported a first quarter 2013 net loss of $38.4 million, or $0.72 per diluted share, which was about half of the net loss of $73.9 million, or $1.40 per diluted share, in the same quarter a year ago, according to an earnings release.

Net sales for the quarter, which ended March 31, also decreased $42.1 million, or 11.2%, compared to the first quarter of 2012, reflecting an 11.2% decline in total sales volume. That loss was driven by the closure of its mill in Sartell, Minn., in the third quarter of 2012.

Verso President and CEO David Patterson said he still is concerned about the high cost of delivered natural gas to the two Maine facilities, where delivery charges surged because of constraints in the New England delivery network during a period of higher demand. "And we're referencing a $22 million increase in cost for that gas on a year-over-year basis and a $15 million sequential cost increase versus the fourth quarter of last year," he told a conference call.

For the balance of this year, he expects continued improvements in Verso's pulp and specialty papers business in conjunction with a normal seasonal pick-up in the printing and writing-papers business.

Shares of Verso closed at $1.24 on Thursday.

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