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Align-Rite hurdles 4Q forecasts

    Align-Rite International easily surpassed Street estimates in its fourth quarter Monday, posting a profit of $839,000, or 17 cents a share, on sales of $15.2 million.

    A survey of analysts by First Call Corp. predicted the chip-equipment manufacturer would earn 11 cents a share in the quarter.

    Its shares closed up 7/16 to 20 1/2 ahead of the earnings report.

    The $15.2 million in sales represents a 20 percent improvement from the year-ago quarter when it earned $903,000, or 19 cents a share, on sales of $12.7 million.

    "Our fourth quarter results benefited from increasing demand from our customers and our success in expanding our market share, which served to more than offset a decline in demand for photomask products from the thin film head sector of the industry," said CEO James MacDonald in a prepared release.

    Align-Rite shares moved as high as 34 7/8 in March after falling to a 52-week low of 12 3/8 in June.

    Both analysts covering the stock rate it a "strong buy."

    First Call consensus expects it to earn 72 cents a share in fiscal 2001.>