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MARRIOTT NOTES 21% INCREASE IN ITS EARNINGS

Marriott International Inc. said earnings rose 21 percent in the first quarter, buoyed by strong profits from its lodging operations.

Marriott, with business interests that also include food services, said lodging profits rose 15 percent over the year-ago quarter, while sales increased 6 percent.For the first quarter ended March 24, Marriott said it earned $52 million, or 40 cents a share, on sales of $2 billion. A year earlier, it earned $43 million, or 32 cents a share, on sales of $1.9 billion. The per-share figures in both periods are fully diluted, which means they were calculated under the assumption that any stock options and other securities that could be converted into common stock were converted.

The company said most hotels that are part of its major lodging brands reported strong gains in revenue per available room, as average room rates increased at a much higher rate than inflation. Marriott said the profit growth partly reflected higher franchise fees.

Marriott said its contract services operations reported 13 percent-higher profits in the quarter on a 3 percent sales gain, with all three major businesses posting improved profits and sales. Included in those operations are management services, which covers food services and facilities management; senior living services, which operates retirement communities; and distribution services, which supplies food and other products to the rest of the company and outside clients.