Original Source: FD (FAIR DISCLOSURE) WIRE
OPERATOR: Good morning. My name is Nicole and I will be your conference operator today. At this time I would like to welcome everyone to the Schweitzer-Mauduit fourth-quarter 2007 results conference call. All lines have been placed on mute to prevent any background noise. After the speakers remarks there will be a question-and-answer session. (OPERATOR INSTRUCTIONS). Thank you, Mr. Thompson. You may begin your conference.
PETER THOMPSON, CFO AND TREASURER, SCHWEITZER-MAUDUIT: Thank you, Nicole. Good morning. I am Peter Thompson, Chief Financial Officer of Schweitzer-Mauduit International. With me are Wayne Grunewald, our Corporate Controller and several executive officers of the Company. Thank you for joining us for a review of our full year and fourth-quarter 2007 financial results. I will be leading our conference call today.
Various comments or remarks that we may make during today's conference call constitute forward-looking statements within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. Actual results may differ materially from the results suggested by these comments for a number of reasons. Such factors are discussed in more detail in the Company's Securities and Exchange Commission reports including the Company's 2006 Annual Report.
Certain financial measures that will be discussed during this call exclude restructuring expenses. Financial measures which exclude this item have not been determined in accordance with accounting principles generally accepted in the United States and are therefore non-GAAP financial measures.
I will now review the highlights of the full year and fourth quarter of 2007 and provide additional discussion of key factors impacting our results. I will not repeat the more detailed review of our fourth-quarter financial results included in our earnings press release issued this morning.
Earnings per share excluding restructuring expenses totaled $1.20 for the full year and $0.16 for the fourth quarter of 2007. These amounts compared to $0.83 for the full year of 2006 and a loss of $0.08 for the fourth quarter of 2006. Full-year 2007 earnings per share increased 45%. The primary causes of both full year and fourth quarter earnings growth included improved results for reconstituted tobacco products and lower ignition propensity cigarette papers as well as significant savings from cost reduction activities across our business.
Our 2007 earnings per share of $1.20 excluding restructuring expenses achieved our projection to exceed the high end our previous earnings guidance of $1.15 per share. On December 21, 2007 Schweitzer-Mauduit entered into an agreement to purchase the 28% of LTR Industries, SA or LTR owned by a subsidiary of Altadis, SA.
We are pleased to announce that this acquisition was completed in January. We expect this acquisition to be accretive to earnings in the range of $0.28 to $0.34 per share subject in part to final purchase accounting. The minority interest in LTR earnings doubled to $8 million in 2007 from $4.1 million in 2006.
Net sales increased versus 2006 by 9% and 13% for the full year and fourth quarter respectively primarily due to favorable foreign currency impacts and an improved product mix. Unit volume increased about 0.5% for the full year while being essentially unchanged during the fourth quarter.
Sales volumes increased primarily due to gains in the French segment including 11% higher full-year sales of reconstituted tobacco leaf products. Sales volumes in Brazil increased 2% during 2007 while US volumes declined by 10% primarily reflecting reduced sales of commercial and industrial papers.
Restructuring expenses totaled $24 million in 2007. Restructuring expenses for 2006 and 2007 totaled $45.1 million or 85% of the 51 to $54 million we project for all announced restructuring actions underway in France, the United States and Brazil. The projected amount of restructuring expenses has declined by 5 to $7 million or about 10% from original estimates due to lower than expected employee severance expenses in France.
Through 2007, we have paid $11 million in cash severance payments or one-third of the total expected. The balance will be paid through mid 2009.
The Company's fourth quarter gross profit margin which does not include restructuring expenses was 12.4% compared with 8.8% in the prior year quarter and for the full year was 15.1% compared with 12.8% in 2006. Operating profit excluding restructuring expenses totaled $41.9 million for the full year and $5.5 million for the fourth quarter of 2007. These amounts increased 59% for the full year and $5.8 million for the fourth quarter compared with the prior year.
Improved mill operations and savings from cost reduction activities underway across the Company again benefited results for both the full year and fourth quarter of 2007. Machine operating schedules increased within the French …