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Altria Takes Forecast Higher

However, third-quarter profits fall short of estimates.
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Altria

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lifted its profit forecast for 2006 but its earnings for the third-quarter were a bit short of Wall Street's expectations.

For the full year, Altria is projecting earnings from continuing operations of $5.48 to $5.53 a share, up from a previous range of $5.40 to $5.50. On average, analysts are looking for $5.31.

The revised forecast includes

Kraft's

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(KFT)

gain on the Minute Rice sale, which will mean a 7-cent boost to Altria. Also, Kraft's redemption of its interest in United Biscuits will mean an added 6 cents. The company had earlier forecast a 9-cent gain.

Altria owns about 87% of Kraft and plans to spin off the operation.

During the third quarter, Altria had net revenue of $25.9 billion, up 3.7% from last year. The company earned about $2.88 billion in both the latest quarter and the year-ago period. On a per-share basis, Altria had $1.36 this year, down from $1.38 last year.

Excluding items, Altria would have earned $1.39 in the most recent period, but that was 2 cents below the consensus estimate provided by Thomson Financial.

"Our third-quarter results were in line with our internal expectations, and we remain on track to meet our earnings target for the full year," said Louis Camilleri, chairman and chief executive of Altria. "Our income performance during the third quarter was adversely affected by Philip Morris International's continued challenges in Spain and the anticipated inventory depletion in Japan following the July 2006 price increase."