updated 1/18/2007 9:31:50 AM ET 2007-01-18T14:31:50

Harley-Davidson Inc. posted a nearly 10 percent rise in quarterly earnings Thursday as U.S. sales of its rumbling, iconic motorcycles grew faster than the overall market.

Fourth-quarter net profit rose to $252.4 million, or 97 cents a share, from $230 million, or 84 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue rose nearly 12 percent to $1.5 billion.

Analysts, on average, expected the Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based company to earn 96 cents a share on sales of $1.45 billion, according to Reuters Estimates.

The results are the latest sign that Harley is finding new customers even as the baby boomers who have been its traditional buyer begin to get too old to ride its famously bone-shaking bikes.

Since July, when the company introduced four new bikes and a powerful new engine at a dealer meeting in California, Harley shares have risen about 40 percent. In composite electronic trading before the stock market opening, the stock was down about 1 percent from Wednesday’s close at $71.87.

The company said worldwide retail sales of its motorcycles rose 6.4 percent during the fourth quarter. Sales in the United States, by far its largest and most important market, rose 0.3 percent, even as the overall domestic market for heavyweight motorcycles fell 1.7 percent.

Sales jumped 29.4 percent in international markets, driven by strong gains in Canada, Europe and Japan.

Looking forward, Harley said it expects to ship 82,000 to 84,000 motorcycles in the current quarter and reiterated its forecast for annual earnings-per-share growth of 11 percent to 17 percent through 2009.

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