International Multifoods

(IMC)

met Wall Street's earnings estimates in the fourth fiscal quarter, but said the

cost of buying the

Pillsbury

lines and

Robin Hood

brands would cut into the first quarter.

The food service company earned $2.9 million, or 15 cents a share, in the latest fourth quarter, meeting the consensus estimate of two analysts surveyed by

Thomson Financial/First Call

. In the year-ago quarter, International Multifoods posted a profit of $6.9 million, or 37 cents a share.

Net sales for the quarter totaled $679.5 million, up from $595 million in the year-ago period.

The company blamed the earnings decline on the

Multifoods Distribution Group

, which was hit by high fuel prices and wage rates, along with start-up costs associated with new businesses the division began serving in the fourth quarter.

In the 2002 fiscal year, International Multifoods expects to earn between $1.55 and $1.65 a share. The estimate posted on First Call is $1.33 a share, a consensus of two analysts. The company, which is based in Minnetonka, Minn., earned $1.17 in fiscal 2001. The company didn't provide specific guidance for the first quarter, but did say the period would be bogged down with costs related to the acquisitions of some Pillsbury lines and Robin Hood brands.

On the

New York Stock Exchange

, International Multifoods lost 43 cents, or 2.4%, to $17.50 in recent trading.