updated 4/19/2005 10:54:39 AM ET 2005-04-19T14:54:39

Financial services provider Merrill Lynch & Co. said Tuesday that first-quarter earnings fell 3 percent year-over-year due to challenging market conditions in March.

Net income dropped to $1.21 billion, or $1.21 per share, in the January-March period, from $1.25 billion, or $1.21 per share, a year ago. Net revenue grew 3 percent to $6.22 billion from $6.06 billion last year — the highest the firm has generated since the first quarter of 2001.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial were looking for earnings of $1.18 per share on sales of $6.15 billion in the latest quarter.

"We are very pleased with our performance in the quarter," said Stan O'Neal, chairman and chief executive officer of Merrill Lynch. "We posted solid revenue growth over the strong performance in the previous quarter, and, despite increasingly challenging market conditions in March, we produced net earnings of more than $1 billion again this quarter.

In its wealth management segment, the company said it continues to experience strong net inflows into annuitized private client products and strong investment performance in managed-money products.

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