Wendy's ( WEN) said fourth-quarter earnings rose from the year-ago period as sales improved at its restaurant chains, and the company said nothing to indicate that the recent death of founder and spokesman Dave Thomas would pressure its future results. The owner of hamburger restaurants and doughnut shops reported earnings of $46.6 million, or 42 cents a share, compared with a profit of $34.4 million, or 29 cents a share, last year. The year-ago results included an $18 million pretax charge. The company's earnings in the latest quarter were in line with analysts' expectations. Shares of Wendy's ended up 9 cents, or 0.3%, at $32.05. The stock is up 9.8% so far this year. "Overall, our business showed resiliency over the past year, especially during the weeks following the Sept. 11 terrorism tragedy," Chief Executive Jack Schuessler said in a statement. "We focused our system on restaurant operations, offered consumers good value and quality products, and controlled costs." Systemwide sales, which include company-owned and franchised restaurants, rose 8.5% to $2.1 billion in the quarter. The company's revenue rose 7.6% to $616 million. For 2002, analysts expect the company to earn $1.89 and have revenue of $2.6 billion, according to Thomson Financial/First Call. On Jan. 8, Thomas, Wendy's founder and chairman passed away. He was well known for his television commercials, having appeared in more than 800 of them during his career, and he was widely credited for keeping the restaurant chain in the public awarness. The company will hold a conference call and Webcast Monday at 10 a.m. EST.