Altria's

(MO) - Get Report

fourth-quarter earnings rose 18% from a year ago, reflecting a 9% rise in sales, a lower tax rate and charges in the 2004 period.

The cigarette company, which controls

Kraft Foods

( KFT), earned $2.29 billion, or $1.09 a share, in the quarter, compared with $1.95 billion, or 94 cents a share, a year ago. Net revenue was $24.49 billion, up from $22.38 billion.

The latest quarter was taxed at 30.7%, compared with 35.5% a year ago. The difference reflects a divestiture, a new manufacturing deduction and a one-time payment for earnings repatriation a year ago. Altria recorded asset writedowns of $342 million in the latest quarter, compared with a writedown of $268 million a year ago. It also had a $140 million provision related to airline bankruptcies in the year-ago period.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call were forecasting earnings of $1.17 a share in the fourth quarter of 2005.

For all of 2006, Altria expects to earn $4.85 to $4.95 a share, including a charge of 36 cents a share related to a restructuring at Kraft. Net income in 2006 will be reduced 14 cents a share by currency translations; 10 cents a share by lower income from Spain; 5 cents a share by a higher share count; and 4 cents a share by a higher tax rate.

Analysts were forecasting $5.48 a share in 2006.

"Overall, we achieved solid results in 2005, with strong income growth in our tobacco businesses partially offset by weaker results in food," Altria said. "We enter 2006 with considerable momentum. However, circumstances affecting some of Phillip Morris International's key markets, most notably Spain, dictate a cautious earnings outlook this early in the year. In addition, unfavorable currency, Kraft's restructuring costs and the inclusion of an extra week of results at Kraft in 2005 will make for difficult comparisons this year. I am nevertheless confident that we have the strategic wherewithal and resources to manage the challenges ahead and successfully seize the considerable opportunities ahead of us."