RUBBERMAID, TUPPERWARE REPORT FINANCES

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The two largest plastics housewares molders, Rubbermaid Inc. and Tupperware Corp., reported flat sales for 1996.

For Tupperware, 1996 was the year the Orlando housewares maker became an independent company. In May 1996, Premark International Inc. of Deerfield, Ill., spun off its Tupperware subsidiary into a separate company.

Rubbermaid reported a much higher profit level for 1996, but part of the reason was the one-time charge of $158 million taken by the Wooster, Ohio, company in the fourth quarter of 1995 to pay for its major restructuring.

Both companies' fiscal years finished at the end of December. Here is a look at the numbers:

Rubbermaid's 1996 sales totaled $2.35 billion. Sales in 1995 were $2.34 billion.

``Two factors that curbed sales were our planned reduction in stock-keeping units and lackluster volume at Little Tikes,'' Rubbermaid's toy rotational molding operation, said Wolfgang R. Schmitt, Rubbermaid chairman and chief executive officer.

Helping sales were acquisitions and growth in core, continuing-unit volume.

Profit was $152.4 million, about 21/2 times 1995 profit of $59.8 million. But a big reason for the low 1995 number was the restructuring charge. Rubbermaid's 1996 profit number remained well below the level of 1994, when it reported $228.1 million.

On the plus side, Rubbermaid reported a record cash flow of $315 million from operations, up from $230 million the prior year. Schmitt said that gain, in the midpoint of the two-year restructuring program, indicates progress in becoming a low-cost producer while maintaining innovation.

Rubbermaid is blaming much of its leaner profitability on resin price hikes in the second half of the year. Prices increased 40 percent from the first quarter to the fourth quarter.

Schmitt said the goal of cutting 45 percent of Rubbermaid's stock-keeping units was largely completed in the first half of 1996. The company also has reduced its leased warehouse space by 2 million feet, and plans to cut that same amount this year.

Rubbermaid is consolidating distribution into centers placed next to major plants.

Schmitt said Rubbermaid ``began to restore market share in our core categories through brand-driven, promotional features with our customers.''

Tupperware's strong sales in Latin America offset declines in Europe, Asia and the United States. Sales in Latin America rose 34 percent, to $268.5 million, and profitability in the region more than doubled.

Tupperware reported 1996 sales of $1.37 billion, about the same as $1.36 billion in 1995. But Tupperware, which gets 85 percent of its sales from outside the United States, said profit was hurt by the rising value of the dollar, especially against European and Asian currencies.

Latin America also helped boost net earnings. Measured on a pro forma basis — an accounting technique that allows the company to compare 1996 with its earlier operation as a Premark unit — Tupperware reported profit of $170.4 million, a 5.8 percent increase over $161.1 million. Excluding costs from becoming its own company, Tupperware reported a 9.2 percent gain in profit, to $176 million.

Tupperware said Mexico, Brazil and Argentina were particularly strong.

``We were pleased to see a strong finish to our first year as a public company, despite adverse foreign exchange,'' said Warren L. Batts, chairman and chief executive officer.

``In 1997 we will continue to focus on building our sales force, developing new products and leveraging our recent entries into new markets such as India and China.''