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leveraged price increases to 1.3% jump in beer volume to post its 22nd consecutive quarter of double-digit earnings growth Wednesday.

The company earned $550 million, or 67 cents a share, in the latest quarter compared with earnings of $485 million, or 57 cents a share, last year. The latest quarter included a gain of 2 cents a share from hedging. Net sales rose to $3.48 billion from $3.28 billion last year.

Analysts were forecasting earnings of 64 cents a share in the latest quarter. The stock was recently down 55 cents, or 1.1%, to $51.43.

The company said domestic revenue per barrel rose 3.1% in the first quarter from a year ago, reflecting price increase implemented in October and February. Its profitability was also enhanced by continued brisk sales of its higher margin Michelob brand.

Gross profit margin improved 60 basis points to 40.4% in the quarter and operating margin rose 30 basis points to 23.6%.

"We remain confident in our ability to consistently achieve our double-digit earnings per share growth objective over the long-term and our 12% earnings per share growth target for 2004, excluding the benefit of the commodity hedge gain," the company said.