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Consulting firm

Accenture

(ACN) - Get Accenture Plc Class A Report

said Wednesday that it expects fourth-quarter earnings to rise sharply and beat Wall Street's consensus estimate by 2 cents.

The company also provided preliminary first-quarter 2004 earnings estimates, which are in line with analysts' expectations.

For the fourth quarter ended Aug. 31, the company thinks it will earn 25 cents a share, compared with earnings of 8 cents a share in the year-ago quarter. Last year's profit included a charge of $111 million, or 7 cents a share, and a loss on investments of $15 million, or a penny a share.

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Analysts are calling for 23 cents a share in the fourth quarter.

Accenture said its tax rate for fiscal 2003 was lower, and that reduced the fourth quarter's tax rate to 31%. In turn, the company's provision for taxes decreased by $19 million, which resulted in a benefit of 2 cents a share during the quarter. The company will report its quarterly results on Oct. 9.

The company expects sales of $3.2 billion, up from last year's $2.7 billion. In addition, the company said it expects new bookings for the fourth quarter to rise 34% to $3.8 billion.

In the fiscal first quarter, Accenture anticipates earnings of 27 cents to 28 cents a share on revenue of $3.09 billion. Analysts' consensus is 28 cents a share on sales of $3.1 billion. The company earned 27 cents a share in the first quarter last year.

For fiscal 2004, Accenture forecast sales growth of 5% to 10%, and new bookings of $16 billion to $18 billion.

Separately, the company announced a public offering of 82 million common shares. Under the terms of the deal, 57.3 million newly issued shares will be offered and certain Accenture partners, former partners and others will offer 24.7 million shares.

Shares of New York-based Accenture were down 68 cents, or 3%, at $22.70.