first-quarter earnings beat analysts' expectations, even as coronary stent sales fell by a third.

For the quarter ended last month, earnings rose to $177 million, or 54 cents a share, from the year-earlier $153 million, or 48 cents a share.

Excluding special items, earnings rose to 65 cents a share from 56 cents a year ago, beating the Thomson First Call analyst consensus estimate by 3 cents.

The Indianapolis-based company reported sales of $953 million for the quarter, up 2% from the year-earlier period. While sales were up $19 million for the quarter, $13 million came from favorable foreign currency translations.

Guidant's coronary stent sales were down 33%, to $115 million. Not including stents, sales were $838 million, up 10%.

Continuing a trend among implantable-device makers, Guidant's implantable-defibrillator revenue rose at the cost of pacemaker sales as patients who previously would have received pacemakers opted for implantable defibrillators. ICD sales were $478 million, up 18%. Pacemaker sales declined 6% to $168 million.

Angioplasty system sales fell 14% to $100 million, reflecting the temporary unavailability of the company's leading dilatation catheter during the quarter.

Guidant agreed in December to be acquired by

Johnson & Johnson

(JNJ) - Get Report

for $76 a share in cash and stock. Guidant will seek approval from shareholders at a meeting on April 27.

Guidant shares were down a dime Thursday at $74.16.

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