Temple-Inland Inc.'s net loss in its building products segment deepened to $9 million in the first quarter of 2010 from $2 million a year earlier even though sales rose by $2 million to reach $153 million, the company reported this morning.

Temple-Inland executives preferred to focus on the improvement from the fourth quarter of 2009, when the segment posted an $18 million operating loss. It also noted the Austin, Texas-based company's EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization). By that measure, the company posted $2 million in earnings. That's only one-fifth the $10 million profit in the year-earlier quarter, but it represents a swing from the segment's fourth-quarter 2009 EBITDA loss of $8 million.

Temple-Inland noted the first quarter had higher lumber prices, but they weren't enough to overcome reduced volumes of gypsum, particleboard, and lumber.

Company-wide, Temple-Inland reported a net loss of $4 million, down sharply from its $35 million net in the first quarter of 2009 and $38 million in the fourth quarter of last year.

"We executed well in the quarter despite challenging conditions due to the extreme weather and rising input costs," chairman and CEO Doyle Ross said. "...In Building Products, we improved our operating results compared with fourth quarter 2009 and generated positive EBITDA. Rising lumber prices were partially offset by higher fiber prices in the quarter."

Pricing and demand is improving in this quarter, and as a result Temple-Inland expects the building products segment to return to profitability, Ross added.

Sales rose for lumber ($50 million vs. $46 million in the first three months of 2009), and fiberboard (to $7 million from $3 million). They fell for gypsum wallboard ($33 million from $38 mlliion) and particleboard ($36 million from $38 million), and held steady at $18 million for medium-density fiberboard. Sales of other products climbed by $1 million to reach $9 million.