TURIN, Italy -- Italian industrial group Fiat said on Tuesday its first-quarter operating loss widened to $393.6 million from $345 million a year ago, far worse than analysts expected.
The core carmaking unit Fiat Auto, which has slashed jobs in a bid to cut costs, posted an operating loss in the quarter of 334 million euros -- worse than a forecast of 277 million in a Reuters poll of analysts and widening again from 180 million euros in the fourth quarter.
Net debt, which Fiat has tried to cut by selling assets, was at 5.2 billion euros, up from 3.8 billion euros at the end of 2002 and still more than the 3.6-billion limit set by its banks.
The group also said it saw no substantial turnaround in its main markets until late this year at the earliest but expected its full-year operating loss to be narrower than in 2002.
The first quarter has turned up mixed results for European carmakers with France's PSA-Peugeot Citroen notching up a rise in sales while a weak market and a strong euro slashed Volkswagen's profits by more than two-thirds.
Fiat, working on a new industrial plan aimed at reversing last year's record loss, said first-quarter revenues fell to 12.3 billion euros from 14.1 billion euros a year ago while sales at Fiat Auto generated sales of 4.9 billion euros.