Stewart Information Services Corp. (NYSE: STC) today reported that for the second year in a row, annual revenues, net earnings, orders and earnings per share during the fourth quarter and year-end 2003 were the largest in the company’s history

Revenues for the year 2003 were $2.2 billion, a 26 percent increase from 2002. Net earnings for the year 2003 were $123.8 million, or $6.88 per share, compared with net earnings of $94.5 million, or $5.30 per share, for 2002. Stewart’s assets now exceed $1 billion for the first time in the company’s history.

Stewart earned $20.8 million, or $1.15 per share, for the fourth quarter of 2003, compared with earnings of $43.8 million, or $2.46 per share, for the fourth quarter of 2002. Revenues for the fourth quarter increased to $614.9 million compared with $551.3 million a year ago.

Although revenues for the fourth quarter increased by 12 percent over the fourth quarter of 2002, earnings declined by 53 percent. The fourth quarter included a significantly higher proportion of revenues from agency operations in 2003 (66 percent) compared with the 2002 period (59 percent). In high-volume years like 2003, agency operations generate a lower percentage of earnings to revenues than do direct operations. Employee costs for the rollout of SureClose to more than 400 company locations in 2003 also affected the full year and the fourth quarter. Additionally, reserves taken on litigation in progress and a loss on a mapping/automation contract reduced earnings per share by approximately $0.13 in the fourth quarter, according to a company statement.

Refinancing transactions declined in the second half of 2003 as a result of an overall increase in mortgage interest rates. Most industry experts project current interest rates to continue or move slightly higher and are forecasting significantly fewer refinancing transactions for 2004.

Stewart Information Services Corp. is a global real estate information company, which provides title insurance and related information services through more than 7,200 issuing locations in the United States and several international markets.

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