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(AN) - Get AutoNation, Inc. Report

delivered better-than-expected fourth-quarter earnings Thursday and sounded optimistic notes for the long-term prospects of the auto industry.

Before Thursday's opening bell, AutoNation reported fourth-quarter net income of $61.7 million, or 35 cents a share, down slightly from the 67.1 million, or 38 cents a share, it recorded in the year-ago period.

But adjusting for one-time items, AutoNation said its net income from continuing operations came to $50 million or 29 cents a share, compared with $23 million, or 13 cents a share for the prior year, a 123% increase on a per-share basis.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected earnings of 27 cents a share.

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Fourth-quarter 2009 revenue totaled $2.8 billion, AutoNation said, up 8% from $2.6 billion a year ago.

The company attributed the improvement to stronger new vehicle sales, which increased 7% year-over-year.

AutoNation said it agrees with view that sales volumes will rebound in 2010. It expects industry-wide sales this year to total 11.5 million vehicles.

-- Reported by Andrea Tse in New York

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