The Manitowoc Co. last week reported sales of $860.1 million for the first quarter of 2012, an increase of 17.5 percent compared to sales of $732.2 million in the first quarter of 2011. The sales increase was driven by a 29.3-percent increase in Crane segment sales, coupled with a 3.8-percent increase in Foodservice segment sales.

On a GAAP basis, the company reported net earnings of $0.1 million, or $0.00 per diluted share, in the first quarter versus a net loss of $52.4 million, or a loss of $0.40 per diluted share, in the first quarter of 2011. Both periods included special items

“Our first-quarter results create a strong foundation for Manitowoc given robust top-line growth of 18 percent and a 150-basis point improvement in operating margins in this seasonally soft quarter,” said Glen Tellock, Manitowoc’s chairman and CEO. “The core tenets of our strategy — superior products, unrivaled aftermarket support, capitalizing on global growth opportunities, and driving operational efficiencies — continue to differentiate us in the marketplace and solidify our position as a leading manufacturer of cranes and foodservice equipment.”

First-quarter 2012 net sales in the Crane segment were $507.9 million, up 29.3 percent from $392.8 million in the first quarter of 2011, driven primarily by continued growth in the Americas region, as well as sustained demand in most emerging markets mitigated by weakness in European markets.

Crane segment operating earnings for the first quarter of 2012 increased to $22.5 million compared to $12.4 million in the same period last year. This resulted in an operating margin of 4.4 percent for the first quarter of 2012, up from 3.2 percent in the same period in 2011. The year-over-year increase in margin was due to absorption benefits of higher sales volume, partially offset by commodity costs and product sales mix. Crane segment backlog totaled $931 million as of March 31, 2012, a 16-percent increase from $800 million in the prior-year quarter. First-quarter 2012 orders of $675 million were 10-percent higher than the first quarter of 2011. This is particularly noteworthy because orders in the first-quarter of 2011 benefited from ConExpo, while no similar trade show was held in the first quarter of 2012.

“The first-quarter Crane segment results reflect another quarter of strong order intake driven by robust demand in the Americas region, as well as growing interest in the new products we introduced in 2011,” Tellock said. “In addition, our backlog reached the highest levels since before the recession and represented a book-to-bill ratio of 1.3 times.”

Headquartered in Manitowoc, Wis., The Manitowoc Co. has more than 115 manufacturing, distribution, and service facilities in 25 countries. It is a provider of crawler cranes, tower cranes, and mobile cranes for the heavy construction industry. In addition, Manitowoc is a leading innovators and manufacturers of commercial foodservice equipment.