Sprint beats analysts’ forecast

? Sprint Corp. on Thursday reported earnings of $519 million for the third quarter, beating analysts expectations.

Sprint FON, which includes the Overland Park-based company’s long-distance division, recorded earnings of $526 million, or 59 cents per share for the quarter that ended Sept. 30. That compares with earnings of $154 million, or 18 cents per share, for the same quarter a year ago.

Excluding one-time charges, including losses due to WorldCom’s bankruptcy and money made from restructuring, the division made 44 cents per share, beating the 37 cents per share predicted by analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call.

The company’s wireless business, Sprint PCS, lost $7 million, or 1 cent per share. Excluding one-time items, including charges related to WorldCom and money made from the sale of an investment in Mexican wireless operator Pegaso, PCS lost 13 cents per share, beating analyst expectations of a loss of 19 cents per share. During the same period last year, PCS lost $288 million, or 29 cents per share.

Still, Sprint PCS reported a loss of 78,000 subscribers for the quarter, and customer additions were down when compared to the same period last year.

The company said that its PCS and FON operations took a total of $36 million in charges from bad debt related to WorldCom’s bankruptcy.

Sprint chairman and chief executive William T. Esrey said that during the quarter, Sprint reduced its debt by $450 million. Sprint still has $25.2 billion in debt.

“I’m pleased with the progress we are making in both operating performance and management of the balance sheet,” Esrey said.

He also said Sprint expected to receive $2.2 billion next year from the sale of its profitable phone-directory business to R.H. Donnelley.

Before the earnings were announced, shares of Sprint PCS were up 8 cents to close at $2.38 in trading Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange. In after hours trading, shares were up 47 cents to $2.85.

Shares of Sprint FON closed at $10.67, up 27 cents. In after hours trading, shares were up $1.03 to $11.70.