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Filmgoers help Pixar beat the Street

Buoyed by strong sales of its "Toy Story 2" creation, Steve Jobs' digital animation studio easily beats the Street in its fourth quarter.

    Buoyed by strong sales of its "Toy Story 2" creation, Steve Jobs' Pixar Animation Studios said Thursday that it easily beat the Street in its fourth quarter.

    The digital animation studio posted a profit of $35.2 million, or 71 cents a share, on sales of $75.7 million. First Call consensus expected Pixar to earn 63 cents a share on sales of $64.1 million. In the year-ago quarter, Pixar pocketed $9.6 million, or 19 cents a share, on sales of $24.9 million.

    Pixar shares closed off $2.67 to $33.19 ahead of the earnings report, but shot up to $36.50 in after-hours trading. The shares moved to a 52-week high of $40.50 in January after slumping to a low of $25.63 in December.

    Chief Financial Officer Ann Mather told analysts during a conference call that Pixar now expects to post earnings of between 20 cents a share and 45 cents a share in its first quarter, mainly as a result of "Toy Story 2" merchandise and home video sales. Earnings for the fiscal year are expected to come in between 30 cents a share and 50 cents a share.

    Analysts were forecasting earnings of 10 cents a share in the first quarter and 39 cents a share in fiscal 2001.

    For the fiscal year, Pixar raked in $78.4 million, or $1.57 a share, on sales of $172.3 million compared to a profit of $49.2 million, or 99 cents a share, on sales of $121 million in fiscal 1999.

    "We are delighted to report Pixar's highest quarterly and yearly earnings to date, which reflect the worldwide success of 'Toy Story 2' and the evergreen profit potential of our growing library," Jobs, chief executive of Pixar as well as of Apple Computer, said in a statement. "Looking forward, we are thrilled with our studio's next feature film, 'Monsters, Inc.,' and are gearing up for its release this November."

    Last quarter, it hurdled analysts' estimates when it earned $8.8 million, or 18 cents a share, on sales of $17.3 million.

    Five of the seven analysts tracking the stock rate it a "buy."