TULSA, Okla. (AP) _ Natural gas pipeline operator Williams Cos. said Wednesday it swung to a profit in the latest fourth quarter from a year-ago loss, due to a $103 million pretax gain associated with an insurance arbitration award and lower levels of interest expense as a result of reduced debt levels.


Net income totaled $73.4 million, or 13 cents per share, up from a loss of $53.7 million, or 10 cents per share, a year ago. Excluding items, earnings from continuing operations rose to $68 million, or 12 cents per share, from $57.5 million, or 11 cents per share, a year ago on a restated basis.


Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call were looking for the company to post earnings of 11 cents per share in the latest quarter.


Williams reduced its debt by about $4 billion in 2004 through scheduled maturities, early debt retirements and exchanges. At Dec. 31, Williams' total outstanding debt was about $8 billion.


In 2005, Williams said it expects to report consolidated segment profit of $1.05 billion to $1.35 billion and adjusted earnings from continuing operations of 63 cents to 88 cents per share. Analysts are expecting operating profit of 83 cents per share, on average.


The company has an overall capital budget of $1 billion to $1.2 billion for 2005, $1.15 billion to $1.35 billion for 2006, and $900 million to $1.1 billion in 2007.