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Campbell Soup notes profit rise

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MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. — Campbell Soup Co. reported a 35 percent profit increase for the latest quarter on Thursday as improved results from its North American beverage and sauce divisions and its international operations offset a decline in North American soups.

But the company said its earnings for the first fiscal quarter and all of fiscal 2004 would be lower than analysts expected.

For its fourth fiscal quarter ended Aug. 3, the company, based in Camden, N.J., earned $74 million, or 18 cents per share, up from $55 million, or 13 cents per share, for the same period last year.

That was a penny per share above expectations of analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call.

Sales rose to $1.5 billion from $1.2 billion in the same quarter a year ago.

The report showed the early results of the company's initiative to overhaul its soups and the way they are marketed, packaged and presented.

The condensed soup market, which is the biggest single component of Campbell's business and has been eroding for years, was the main focus of the past year's improvement attempts.

The North American soup division's operating earnings fell 3 percent in the fourth quarter even though sales were up 12 percent.

The world's biggest soupmaker owns several other brands, including the surging Pepperidge Farm line of cookies and crackers, Pace picante sauce, Prego pasta sauces, V-8 juices and Godiva chocolates.

For the fiscal year, the company earned $595 million, or $1.42 per share, up from $525 million, or $1.28 per share, a year earlier.

For the year, sales were $6.7 billion, up from $6.1 billion in fiscal 2002.

Because of a quirk of the calendar, both the fourth-quarter of fiscal year 2003 and entire year were one week longer than in 2002. That accounted for less than 2 percent of the year's sales increase, the company said.

Looking ahead, Campbell expects earnings per share of 48 cents to 50 cents for the first quarter and $1.58 for the fiscal year. Analysts had been expecting earnings of 51 cents a share in the first quarter and $1.60 a share for the year.

On the New York Stock Exchange, Campbell shares were up 29 cents to close at $26.56.