Updated from 12:38 p.m. EST

Wall Street darling

Network Solutions

(NSOL)

posted a 142% increase in its net fourth-quarter earnings Thursday, beating analysts' expectations and sending its shares sharply higher.

The Internet domain name company reported net income of $9 million, or 25 cents a diluted share, for the quarter ended Dec. 31, compared with net income of $3.7 million, or 11 cents a share, in the fourth quarter of 1998. Wall Street had been expecting earnings of 23 cents a share in the latest quarter, according to the consensus estimate of analysts surveyed by

First Call/Thomson Financial

.

Shares of Network Solutions soared on the news, closing up 36 5/16, or 14.2%, at 292 5/16, after trading as high as 300 3/4 during the day. The stock's value has grown nearly sixfold over the last year.

"This was a spectacular quarter for this company on all fronts," said Robert Fagin, Internet infrastructure analyst at

Bear Stearns

, which rates Network Solutions a buy and has done no underwriting for the company.

Fagin added that the earnings were a good punctuation to a quarter in which the company's balance sheet grew considerably stronger and a government antitrust investigation was dropped.

"This is one of few truly profitable Internet companies, and it has a huge potential for further growth," added Fagin.

Though competitors have been cropping up, they have been only partially successful in chipping away at the company's roughly 70% market share in the registrar portion of its business, which processes applications and collects fees for new Internet domain names.

The company has also enjoyed a monopoly of the registry business since late 1992, when it struck a deal with the

National Science Foundation

to maintain the database of all Internet domain names that end in .com, .org, or .net.

Jim Rutt, Network Solutions' chief executive, said the strong growth was driven by 50% quarter-over-quarter growth in new Internet domain-name registrations.

For the quarter, the number of new Internet registrations handled by Network Solutions totaled 1.6 million, up 161% from fourth-quarter 1998. For all of 1999, the total number of registrations by the company rose to 5 million vs. 1.9 million in 1998.

For the year, the company's net earnings totaled $26.9 million, or 77 cents a diluted share, compared with $11.2 million, or 34 cents a share, in 1998.

One of the Mountain View, Calif.-based company's next tasks will be to meet an April 10 deadline set by the the

Commerce Department

and the nonprofit

Internet Corporation for Assigned Names

to split its registrar business from its registry monopoly.

The registrar business will end up on the playing field with some of Network Solutions' current competitors, including start-up companies like

register.com

and

names.com

, as well as Internet titans such as

America Online

(AOL)

. As an incentive to split the two businesses, the government extended the time that Network Solutions will be allowed to maintain its registry monopoly to 2007 from the current 2003. That means the registry will have four extra years to keep collecting the $6 per domain name annual maintenance fee from competitors to its registrar business.