New York Times

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posted fourth-quarter earnings that surpassed analysts' expectations by 2 cents, and said it expects to achieve 10% to 15% earnings per share growth in 2001, despite a "challenging" first half of the year.

Excluding special items, the publishing giant earned $112.1 million, or 68 cents a share, compared with $108.4 million, or 61 cents a share, a year ago. Thirteen analysts polled by

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called for fourth-quarter earnings of 66 cents a share.

Sales for the quarter totaled $951.5 million, up from $889.1 million last year, with revenue from the newspaper group growing 6.8%. The company said advertising revenue in its newspaper group rose 3.2% for the quarter, while revenue for the New York Times Digital grew 10.1% to $17.4 million from $15.8 million.

For 2001, analysts on average are expecting the company to earn $2.29 a share, up from $2.09 a share in 2000 and $1.78 a share in 1999.

Shares of New York Times recently climbed 70 cents, or 1.6%, to $43.90 in morning trading on the Big Board.