Steris

(STE) - Get Report

said today it will terminate 300 to 350 employees as a result of plant closures and consolidations, but the company expects to meet Wall Street's earnings estimates for the fourth quarter, before factoring in a charge.

Still, the company projected that earnings for the first quarter of fiscal 2002 will be well below analysts' expectations. Shares of Steris fell sharply on the news, dropping $3.15, or 18%, to $14.37 in recent

New York Stock Exchange

trading.

Steris, which makes infection and contamination prevention and surgical products, will consolidate its Medina, Ohio, operations in Montgomery, Ala. The company also plans to consolidate two St. Louis manufacturing operations into one of its existing facilities. Steris will also restructure its service organization, which will result in the closure of two depots.

The company expects to take pretax charge of $40 million in the fourth quarter ending March 31. Excluding the charge, Steris believes it will meet analysts' fourth-quarter earnings estimates. According to

First Call/Thomson Financial

, seven analysts expect the company to earn 16 cents a share, up from a profit of a penny a share in the year-ago period.

For the first quarter of fiscal 2002, Steris expects to earn 5 cents a share, compared with 1 cent in the same period a year ago. Analysts expect the company to report a profit of 12 cents a share.

For all of fiscal 2002, Steris expects revenue to grow in the "mid-single digits," and the company projected earnings growth of 35% to 40% year over year.