Martin Marietta Corp., one of the nation's largest defense contractors, reported a healthy rise in first-quarter earnings, due in part to a contract with the Postal Service for developing electronic equipment that automatically reads addresses and zips mail on its way.
In reporting a 9.1 percent jump in per-share profits, to $1.44, for the quarter, Bethesda-based Martin noted that it had picked up two new Postal Service contracts totaling about $40 million. The awards bring the total value of Martin's development of mail-sorting equipment to about $700 million over the past 18 months.
Sales by Martin's Information Systems Group, which manages the Postal Service contracts, jumped 25 percent during the quarter. Martin's overall sales, however, dropped slightly during the quarter, to $1.4 billion, down from $1.419 billion.
The company said that in last year's first quarter it received $115 million from a commercial Titan rocket launch, but Martin had no launches this year.
The recession and weather hurt the company's Materials Group, which produces crushed stone and gravel. The material is used by road makers and the construction industries, both of which were in decline during the first three months of the year. Also, some of the company's Southeastern quarries were flooded by heavy rains, slowing production.
Some analysts who follow the company have speculated that Martin will drop out of the competitive commercial launch business following its next scheduled launch -- that of the Mars Observer, which is slated for September 1992.
Charles Manor, a spokesman for the company, said Martin is still seeking to book new flights for its Titan III commercial launch vehicle.
Martin reported a total backlog of business orders of $11.2 billion at the end of the first quarter, down from $12.4 billion a year earlier.
In his comments to shareholders, Norman R. Augustine, chairman and chief executive, said the success in the recent Persian Gulf war of such systems as the LANTIRN aviation night-vision system and the Patriot and Hellfire missiles "signals a bright future for the kind of high-technology products we design and build."
"Similarly, on the financial side," he said, "first-quarter results are an excellent beginning to the year and, we believe, a positive indicator for the year and the future."