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reported fourth-quarter earnings today that met Wall Street's slightly lowered estimates and said it is aiming for 12% earnings per share growth in 2001.

For the fourth quarter ended Dec. 31, Anheuser-Busch earned $209 million, or 23 cents a diluted share, up from $191 million, or 20 cents a share, in the year-ago period. Sixteen analysts surveyed by

First Call/Thomson Financial

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expected the company to report earnings of 23 cents a share.

The beer maker and distributor also posted fourth-quarter net sales of $2.79 billion, up from $2.72 billion in the same quarter one year ago. The company cited strong revenue per barrel growth and solid volume increases in domestic beer operations as factors in its gains.

Anheuser-Busch said it remains confident in its ability "to consistently achieve our double-digit earnings per share growth objective."

Shares of Anheuser-Busch gained $1.38, or 3.4%, to $41.91 in recent

New York Stock Exchange