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First Data tops 1Q estimates

First Data rolled past analysts' estimates in its first quarter Monday, earning $171 million, or 39 cents a share, on sales of $1.3 billion.

First Call consensus expected the e-commerce services provider to earn 37 cents a share in the quarter.

First Data (NYSE: FDC) shares closed up 2 1/16 to 41 ahead of the earnings report.

The $1.3 billion in sales represents a 14 percent improvement from the year-ago quarter when it earned $141 million, or 32 cents a share, on sales of $1.1 billion.

"We are extraordinarily pleased with outstanding operating performance in our core businesses and with significant margin improvement achieved in merchant and card services," said CEO Ric Duques in a prepared release.

During the first quarter the company repurchased 6.1 million shares of its stock for $265 million at an average price of approximately $44 a share. This completed a $750 million share repurchase program authorized by its board in July 1999.

In the quarter, gross profit margins improved to 13 percent from 11.1 percent in the year-ago quarter.

Each of the company's three segments posted sales growth in excess of 20 percent.

Last quarter, First Data earned $236 million, or 53 cents a share, on sales of $1.47 billion.

Its shares scampered up to a 52-week high of 54 1/4 in January before falling to a low of 38 7/8 last week.

Thirteen of the 15 analysts tracking the stock rate it either a "buy" or "strong buy."

First Call consensus expects it to return a profit of $1.99 a share in the fiscal year.>