updated 5/4/2006 1:43:07 PM ET 2006-05-04T17:43:07

International Paper Co. on Thursday reported a first-quarter loss of $1.2 billion as the world’s largest paper company took a charge for selling businesses as part of a transformation plan.

The Stamford-based company said it lost $2.52 per share for the January-March period, compared with earnings of $77 million, or 16 cents per share, for the same period a year ago.

Excluding charges of $2.66 per share for discontinued operations and 5 cents per share for special items, the company reported earnings of 19 cents per share.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial were expecting earnings of 14 cents per share.

“Higher price realizations, particularly in containerboard, boxes and uncoated papers, and strong mill performance and cost control are the biggest drivers of our earnings improvement from last quarter,” said John Faraci, the company’s chairman and chief executive.

Revenue for the quarter was $5.7 billion, up from $5.6 billion a year ago.

International Paper has been selling millions of acres of forest for about $11 billion and is planning to sell some of its paper businesses as part of an effort to boost its performance.

Faraci said he expects the second quarter to be “somewhat seasonally stronger” than the first quarter with average prices improving.

“The most important numbers are the asset sale numbers,” said Steven Chercover, an analyst with D.A. Davidson & Co. in Oregon. “There’s still heavy lifting to do.”

IP and other paper companies have not seen the benefits yet of price increases, Chercover said.

“The next couple quarters are where we see the benefits, we hope,” Chercover said.

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