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posted fourth-quarter earnings that sharply exceeded analysts' expectations, helped by higher sales and lower expenses.

Excluding special items, the St. Louis-based bio-agricultural firm said fourth-quarter earnings were $31 million, or 12 cents a share, compared with a loss of $25 million, or 10 cents a share, in the same period last year. The figures reflect the effect of a capital contribution from parent company



, which also reported

fourth-quarter results this morning.

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According to

First Call/Thomson Financial

, 10 analysts expected Monsanto to post a loss of one cent a share for the quarter.

Sales for the quarter grew to $1.2 billion from $1.13 billion a year ago, as sales of its Roundup herbicide grew 9%.

For 2001, the company said it sees earnings growth of 9% to 13% over 2000 earnings of $445 million, or $1.72 a share, citing higher gross profit and continued cost management. Monsanto also said sales growth in 2001 would be "in line" with the levels recorded in 2000.

Shares of the company, which is 85% owned by Pharmacia, closed at $33.37 in Friday trading on the

New York Stock Exchange