Updated from April 23

Strong fourth-quarter results, combined with weaker than expected guidance, netted out to a wash for


(SYMC) - Get Report

on Thursday. In recent trading, shares were up less than 1% to $43.05.

Helped by an easy comparison and strong sales, Symantec's bottom line swelled in its fiscal fourth quarter, the security software company reported on Wednesday.

Symantec earned $68.1 million, or 41 cents a share, on $390 million in sales in its quarter ended March 31. In the year-ago period, Symantec earned $4.8 million, or 3 cents a share, on $310.8 million in revenue.

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In the year-ago quarter, Symantec took a $49 million charge for amortizing goodwill, which helped to sink its earnings. The company didn't have any goodwill charges in the just-completed quarter.

Excluding various other charges, the Cupertino, Calif.-based company earned $78 million, or 47 cents a share. On this pro forma basis, Wall Street analysts were expecting the company to earn 46 cents a share on sales of $383.3 million, according to Thomson Financial/First Call.

Despite beating expectations in the just-completed quarter, Symantec warned analysts to lower their expectations for the current quarter and for its fiscal year. Symantec expects to earn about 34 cents a share on sales of $370 million to $390 million in its fiscal first quarter. For the year, the company expects to earn $1.75 per share on $1.65 billion in revenue.

On a pro forma basis, excluding certain charges, the company expects to earn around 38 cents a share in the first quarter and $1.88 for the year. Analysts had projected that Symantec would earn 40 cents a share in the current quarter and $1.91 for the year, on this hypothetical basis.

For its 2003 fiscal year, Symantec earned $248.4 million, or $1.54 a share, on $1.41 billion in sales. In fiscal 2002, the company lost $28.2 million, or 20 cents a share, on revenue of $1.07 billion.

The company's improved bottom line in its fourth quarter masked some rising expenses. Symantec's gross profit margin, which measures the difference between what it charges customers for its goods and what they cost the company to manufacture, declined as a portion of sales by 34 basis points to 82.5%.

Meanwhile, the company's sales and marketing expenses rose 1.09% to 37.3% of sales. And Symantec's general and administrative expenses swelled 57 basis points to 5.8% of sales.

Of the company's core operating costs, only research and development expenses declined, falling 13 basis points to 13.95% of sales.