SHREWSBURY, N.J. -- Citing a significant decline in domestic polyester fiber prices in 1993, Wellman Inc. reported earnings before special charges slumped 18.3 percent in the fourth quarter and 9.6 percent in the year ended Dec. 31. Wellman earned $10.3 million, or 31 cents a share, in the latest quarter before special charges, compared with a profit of $12.6 million, or 39 cents, a year earlier.

After previously announced charges of $11.5 million to cover inventory adjustments, the development of a prototype materials recovery facility, and its capital investment program, Wellman logged a net loss of $1.2 million in the latest quarter.

Sales edged up 3.4 percent to $209.9 million from $202.9 million.

In the year, earnings before special items came to $47.3 million, or $1.44, down from $52.3 million, or $1.60. After special charges of $15.9 million, Wellman's net was $31.4 million, or 95 cents, in the latest year. Sales inched ahead 1.7 percent to $842.1 million from $828.2 million.

Keith R. Philips, Wellman's chief financial officer, said that despite the price pressures in the fourth quarter, "Wellman's core earnings level remained relatively consistent with the third quarter of 1993," primarily due to capacity expansion at its Fayetteville, N.C., facility, increased production at its Irish fiber subsidiary and cost reductions.

Wellman manufactures polyester textile fibers under the Fortel brand, as well as polyester and nylon staple fibers. It recycles plastic into polyester fiber.

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