Our fourth quarter 2000 revenues from our primary markets were below our earlier expectations principally due_to unusually severe weather in November and December , stated James F. Stuart
, Packaged Ice Chairman and CEO.Despite the negative impact of the coldest November and December on record , we achieved numerous successes during this period , including the placement of 77 Ice Factories.A majority of these units were installed in California , which put us ahead of schedule in that market and brought our total California customer base to over 1 , 000 Supermarkets.Also stimulating traditional customer growth was the opening of our new 75-ton facility in Santa_Maria , California.Due_to our continued emphasis on improving operating performance we maintained our operating expenses at 21.3 percent of sales during the quarter , up only 20 basis points from last year's period.Contributing to this was the consolidation of facilities in Nashville , Phoenix and Southern Florida..
After growing rapidly from 1997 through 1999 , we have shifted our growth strategy to focus on maximizing operating efficiencies , capitalizing on our relationships with large national accounts , developing new accounts nationwide and expanding into new markets through the placement of Ice Factories , continued Stuart
.One of our primary objectives for 2001 and beyond will be to improve our balance sheet by reducing our 2001 capital expenditure budget and concentrating on those projects with only the highest return on investment , reducing debt and increasing free cash flow through the strategic use of operating leases.Through these efforts , we anticipate reducing our debt by $ 15 to $ 20 million during 2001 which would give us a ratio of debt to EBITDA in the range of 5.1 to 5.6 to 1 , down from over 5.8 to 1 at 2000 year- end..
...Contacts : James F. Stuart , Chairman & CEOPackaged Ice , Inc713-464-9384
.../CONTACT : James F. Stuart , Chairman & CEO of Packaged Ice , Inc. ,