Ceradyne, which manufactures body armor in Lexington, announced its first-ever dividend Thursday in conjunction with year-end earnings that showed continued growth.
The first payment of the 15-cent quarterly dividend will be made March 20 to shareholders of record as of March 6.
In announcing the dividend, chief executive Joel P. Moskowitz noted the California-based company made the decision because it could afford a dividend while also continuing its strategy of making acquisitions and investing in its current lines of business.
For the fourth quarter of 2011, the company saw its sales rise 27.6 percent to $128.5 million from $100.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2010. Net income grew 57.6 percent to $20.8 million, or 85 cents per share, from $13.2 million, or 53 cents per share, in the same period a year earlier.
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"In general, our management is very pleased with our fourth-quarter performance and the 2011 full-year performance," Moskowitz told analysts during a morning conference call.
He cautioned, though, that 2012 will continue to see some weak trends early on for the company's solar-focused business line. That showed as new orders in the fourth quarter fell to $58.1 million from $151.3 million in the same period a year earlier.
But Moskowitz said he expects the company's customers will work off their excess inventories of solar products as the year progresses.
And on a positive note, "We also expect a strong defense sector in 2012, particularly in Ceradyne's lightweight ceramic body armor."
For all of 2011, sales were $572 million, up 42 percent from $402.9 million in 2010. Net income was $83.9 million, or $3.38 per share, compared to $29.3 million, or $1.15 per share.
Revenue from external customers for Ceradyne's Advanced Ceramic Operations division, which includes Lexington's operations, more than doubled to $60.2 million in the fourth quarter from $28.8 million in the same quarter of 2010. For the year, the division had revenue of $277.5 million, up from $152.6 million.
The division's fourth-quarter operating income was $14.6 million, reversing an operating loss of $12.9 million in the fourth quarter of 2010. For the full year, the division's operating income was $60.3 million, reversing a 2010 loss of $23.1 million.
The company expects overall sales in 2012 of anywhere from $590 million to $625 million and earnings of $2.30 a share to $2.65 a share.