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International, online sales help Intuit cruise past 3Q forecasts

Buoyed by a strong income tax season, Intuit easily topped Street estimates in its third quarter Tuesday, raking in $76.3 million, or 36 cents a share, on sales of $329.1 million.

A survey of analysts by First Call Corp. predicted the financial software developer would earn 33 cents a share this time around.

Ahead of the earnings report, Intuit (Nasdaq: INTU) shares closed off 1 1/4 to 27 1/16.

"Intuit had a great third quarter," said CEO Steve Bennett in a prepared release. "We had three objectives for our tax season and we aced all three. We beat Microsoft, won decisively on the Web and grew our profits. We also continued our strong Internet momentum and had great performance from other parts of our portfolio, such as international."

The $329.1 million in sales marks a 26 percent improvement from the year-ago quarter when Intuit earned $50 million, or 24 cents a share, on sales of $261.5 million.

In the quarter, Intuit's Internet sales jumped to $117 million, roughly 35 percent of the company's total sales in the quarter, and up more than 100 percent from the same period last year. Through the first three quarters of the year, it has posted more than $242 million in online sales.

International sales soared up 67 percent from the third quarter of last year, mainly due to growth in small business accounting software sales in Japan and a strong tax season in Canada.

Last quarter, Intuit met consensus estimates when it posted a profit of $91.4 million, or 44 cents a share, on sales of $425.5 million.

Its shares rallied up to a 52-week high of 90 in January after falling to a 52-week low of 22 7/16 in October.

Analysts expect it to post a profit of 56 cents a share in the fiscal year.

Fifteen of the 16 analysts tracking the stock rate it either a "buy" or "strong buy."