U.S. Gypsum Co. drastically improved its fourth quarter operating loss to $18 million, up from the $61 million loss posted during the same period a year ago, U.S. Gypsum’s parent company USG Corp., announced today. The unit’s net sales also rose 8% to $325 million for the quarter ended Dec. 31.

For the year, U.S. Gypsum more than halved its operating loss from the year prior to $78 million, while net sales improved by $2 million to reach $1.30 billion.

Among Chicago-based USG’s other business units, L&W Supply, the distribution arm of USG Corp., fell deeper into the red during the fourth quarter with a $15 million loss, compared with a $12 million loss last year. The division’s net sales grew 6% to $264 million.

Year-end results revealed that the division cut its operating loss by almost $30 million to $68 million, while net sales remained even at $1.06 billion.

“United States Gypsum Company and L&W Supply, our two largest businesses, reduced their reported operating losses in 2011 compared to the year prior, while many of our other key units achieved an operating profit in 2011,” said James S. Metcalf, president, chairman, and CEO of USG Corp.

Overall, USG posted a fourth quarter adjusted operating loss, which the company believes represents a more useful comparison of the corporations ongoing business performance, of $37 million, a $2 million improvement over the same period a year ago. Net loss for the quarter was $100 million, up from the $121 million net loss reported last year. Net sales improved by 8% to $750 million, while gross profit fell slightly to $43 million. The company also cut its operating loss by more than half to $42 million and reported a $6 million income tax benefit.

The company’s year-end results revealed a net loss of $390 million, a $15 million improvement over 2010’s results. Net sales, meanwhile, rose by 3% to $3.02 billion. Gross profit also grew 13% to $185 million. Adjusted operating loss for the year was $122 million, a $28 million improvement over 2010.

“Our goal is to continue taking the actions necessary to achieve and adjusted operating profit as soon as possible,” said Metcalf. “We will remain focused on strengthening our core businesses, diversifying our earnings, and differentiating USG through innovation.”