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Comma goof costs Lockheed $70 million

LONDON (AP) -- A comma in the wrong place of a sales contract cost Lockheed Martin Corp. $70 million, The Financial Times reported Friday.

An international contract for the U.S.-based aerospace group's C-130J Hercules had the comma misplaced by one decimal point in the equation that adjusted the sales price for changes to the inflation rate, the London-based newspaper said. In Europe, commas are used instead of periods to mark decimal points.It was a mistake, the newspaper quoted James A. "Micky" Blackwell, president of Lockheed's aeronautics division as saying. But the customer, who Lockheed refused to name, held them to the price.

"That comma cost Lockheed $70 million," Blackwell was quoted as telling the newspaper.

James Fetig, a Lockheed spokesman, said Blackwell was describing the major elements of the C-130J cost increase.

"Blackwell indicated ... the inflation-related impacts, including the effects of the misplaced comma in one contract, accounted for $70 million of $275 million in reduced earnings outlook for the C-130J in 1999," Fetig said.

He refused to elaborate. Last week, the company announced that launch failures and problems with the cargo plane and anti-missile programs have hurt their profits.

Lockheed has secured contracts from three countries outside of the United States -- Britain, Italy and Australia -- for its C-130J, the latest version of its Hercules air transportation aircraft.