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Strong sales send EDS past 4Q forecasts

    EDS Corp. (NYSE: EDS) scampered past analysts' estimates in its fourth quarter Thursday, earning $295 million, or 61 cents a share, on sales of $4.88 billion.

    First Call consensus expected it to earn 59 cents a share in the quarter.

    EDS shares moved up 3 1/2 to 71 7/8 at midday.

    The $4.88 billion represents a 15 percent improvement from the year-ago quarter when it earned $264 million, or 53 cents a share, on sales of $4.4 billion.

    Including a variety of charges and one-time gains, EDS pocketed $264.1 million, or 53 cents a share.

    For the year, EDS raked in $957.8 million, or $1.92 a share, on sales of $18.5 billion compared to a profit of $840.1 million, or $1.70 a share, on sales of $16.9 billion in fiscal 1998.

    "We are extraordinarily pleased to report better than expected earnings, record contract signings and significant progress in the e-commerce market with the launch of EDS CoNext," said CEO Dick Brown in a prepared release. "We've been accelerating change in our company concurrent with the increasing demand for e-enabling technologies that drive the digital economy."

    Company officials said contract signings surged to $24.9 billion this year, up from the $11.8 billion it recorded in 1998. One of those contracts, a $6.4 deal with MCI WorldCom Inc. (Nasdaq: WCOM), was a record for the communications industry.

    It also signed a $1.5 billion venture fund with Ariba (Nasdaq: ARBA) as it pushes into the e-commerce procurement space.

    EDS shares moved up to a 52-week high of 76 1/16 in January after falling to a low of 44 1/8 last February.

    First Call consensus expects it to earn $2.26 a share in fiscal 2000.