At first glance, you'd expect that the news of Lafarge's (NYSE:LR) impressive growth in profits and its decent sales gains in 2004 would have sent the stock soaring yesterday. Instead, the world's biggest cement maker declined by about 1.7% yesterday.

Part of the reason for the drop seems to be that Lafarge missed consensus analyst estimates for the year. Another part is certainly the company's observation that profits growth should slow to just 7% or so next year, as the high cost of energy squeezes margins.

But I have to wonder whether there's another reason the stock declined. There's one fact in Lafarge's earnings release that no one is talking about -- not Bloomberg, not the Associated Press, not any of the wire reports that I've seen. It's the huge divergence between the company's reported rise in net profits and the much more modest rise in profits per share.

Take a look at these numbers:

  • In 2004, Lafarge grew its net income by 19.2%.
  • Meanwhile, its net income per share rose just 4.9%.

At first, I thought that fluctuations in currency exchange rates might account for the discrepancy. But that doesn't appear to be the case. In the "boasting" section of its earnings announcement, Lafarge claimed revenue growth of 7.7% vs. 2003 numbers and operating earnings growth of 12.8%, and it qualified both numbers as "like for like," which I take to mean "after accounting for exchange rates."

In the "just the facts" section of the release, however, Lafarge admits that when translated into ultra-expensive euros, its sales increased only 5.7% and operating earnings just 9.8%. But since this same "facts" section describes both the 19.2% net income increase and the 4.9% net income per share increase, changes in the USD-euro, peso-euro or what-have-you-euro exchange rates should logically have already been figured into the numbers.

This raises two questions. First, what happened to all the profits growth between the time the company recorded it and the time profits got apportioned among individual shareholders? (Share dilution is one possibility, but Lafarge provided no information on its current or past share counts.) And second, when you have a discrepancy of this magnitude -- in which 75% of the profits growth disappears between one line and the next -- staring you in the face, why is no one in the "real" financial media taking the time to ask what this means?

If you have a theory explaining the difference, feel free to chime in with a posting on our Motley Fool Take message board.

Fool contributor Rich Smith has no position, short or long, in Lafarge.