Updated from 8:06 a.m. EDT


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third-quarter earnings rose 6.3% from a year ago, helped by a higher profit contribution from overseas beer brewer SABMiller. Underlying results, however, missed estimates -- and were unusually hard to calculate.

The Philip Morris parent earned $2.65 billion, or $1.29 a share, in the three months ended Sept. 30, compared with earnings of $2.49 billion, or $1.22 a share, last year. But a slew of special items peppered through the company's release made comparisons with analysts' estimates difficult.

In a research note out Tuesday, Morgan Stanley analyst David Adelman deciphered the release by noting the quarter's EPS included 2 cents of dilution from a higher share count and a 2-cent benefit from a lower tax rate. They also included a 5-cent, one-time benefit from capital gains at SABMiller, where the company has a 36% minority interest.

Including the charges, Altria earned $1.24 a share by Adelman's measure, falling a penny short of estimates, according to Thomson First Call.

Revenue rose 8.5% from a year ago to $22.73 billion, including worldwide tobacco revenue of $14.8 billion. A $417 million benefit from currency exchanges boosted sales.

For all of 2004, the company narrowed its earnings guidance to $4.55 to $4.60 a share from $4.50 to $4.60 a share, saying it expects to "achieve the high end of that range should current exchange rates hold." Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call were forecasting earnings of $4.77 a share, a figure that probably isn't comparable in light of the convoluted state of Altria's third-quarter earnings depiction.

The 2004 estimate "includes charges for the



restructuring, charges for the agreement that Philip Morris International signed on July 9 with the European Community and the one-time tax benefits reported in the second and third quarters," Altria said. "It excludes the impact of any Kraft divestitures and any potential short-term impact of the recently passed tobacco buyout legislation, as the final regulations have yet to be issued by the U.S. Department of Agriculture."

As a result of charges at Kraft, Altria said its operating income fell 1.5% to $4.2 billion.

Meanwhile, Philip Morris's domestic tobacco business reported its market share rose to 49.9% from 49.8% a year earlier, driven by its Marlboro brand, but cigarette shipment volume dropped 1% to 48.3 billion units. International cigarette shipments were up 5.1%. Excluding the impact of acquisitions, shipments rose 2.9%.

The company also increased its quarterly dividend by 7.4% to 73 cents a share. The new dividend represents an annualized rate of $2.92 a share.

Shares of Altria were recently up 28 cents, or 0.6%, to $47.68.