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Aerospace and defense giant Northrop Grumman (NOC) on Wednesday reported first-quarter net earnings that exceeded analysts' forecasts, reflecting stronger sales in its aerospace unit and a host of newly awarded contracts. 

The Falls Church, Virgina-based company said it earned $863 million, or $5.06 a share, compared with $840 million, or $4.79 a share, in the comparable year-earlier quarter. Analysts polled by FactSet had been expecting earnings of $4.59 a share. 

Sales rose by $1.5 billion "primarily due to the addition of $1.4 billion of sales from Innovation Systems and higher sales at Aerospace Systems, partially offset by lower sales at Technology Services," the company said.

The strong earnings follow in the footsteps of rival Lockheed Martin (LMT) , whose stock surged on Tuesday after the aerospace giant beat Wall Street's first-quarter earnings expectations and raised its full-year outlook.

Net awards to Northrop Grumman totaled $12.3 billion during the quarter. Highlights included $3.2 billion for restricted space, $1 billion for submarine subsystems production and $805 million for F-35 production, among other contracts, the company said.

The company also raised its full-year guidance, lifting its full-year per-share earnings forecast to between $18.90 and $19.30 a share from $18.50 to $19 a share. Analysts polled by FactSet currently expect full-year per-share earnings of $18.91. 

Shares of Northrop Grumman were down 1.6% at $288 in early trading on Wednesday.