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posted fourth-quarter earnings that were better than Wall Street expected.

The company reported fourth-quarter income of $97 million, or $1.38 a share, compared with $80 million, or $1.11 a share, in the year-ago period. Eleven analysts expected the company to earn $1.19 for the quarter, according to

First Call/Thomson Financial

. Ashland's fourth-quarter earnings excluded unusual items.

Sales and operating revenue for the quarter rose to $2.14 billion from $1.86 billion a year ago.