updated 2/2/2005 9:18:13 AM ET 2005-02-02T14:18:13

Northrop Grumman Corp., the world's largest shipbuilder and the third-largest U.S. defense contractor, said Wednesday that fourth-quarter earnings grew 31 percent year-over-year due to strong sales and improved operating margins.

Net income rose to $294 million, or 80 cents per share, from $224 million, or 61 cents per share, a year ago. Income from continuing operations rose 62 percent to $296 million, or 81 cents per share, from $183 million, or 50 cents, last year. Sales grew 10 percent to $7.85 billion from $7.15 billion in the 2003 period.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call were looking for the company to post earnings of 81 cents per share on sales of $7.56 billion in the latest quarter.

Operating margin increased 58 percent to $573 million from $362 million in the 2003 period, due to improved operating segment performance, reduced pension expense and lower unallocated corporate expenses. Fourth-quarter pension costs declined to $86 million from $145 million last year.

In 2005, Northrop Grumman expects to grow sales to between $31 billion and $31.5 billion, increase earnings per share from continuing operations to between $3.45 and $3.60, and generate cash from operations of $2.2 billion to $2.5 billion.

Analysts are forecasting 2005 profit of $3.53 per share on sales of $31.57 billion.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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