Cost cuts and a better product mix helped Clorox ( CLX) produce a more-than-doubling of net income on flat revenue in its third quarter.

But the company provided a first-quarter 2004 earnings estimate that is below analysts' expectations. Despite the shortfall, the company said 2003 and 2004 full-year results will still reflect overall sales and earnings growth.

Nonetheless, shares of the Oakland, Calif.-based consumer product manufacturer were recently down about 3% to $44.70.

Clorox earned $110 million, or 50 cents a share, in the quarter ended March 31, compared with $46 million, or 20 cents a share, in the prior-year period. Results included a $7 million charge related to a 1999 stock-performance incentive plan, the company said. Analysts also expected 50 cents a share.

Sales were $1.02 billion, flat with last year's third quarter. Specialty product sales were up 6% to $344 million. Gross margin was 45.5%, up 300 basis points compared with the prior-year period, because of cost savings and favorable product mix, the company said.

Clorox CEO Craig Sullivan said: "Positive trends across our business have been driven by the organization's focus on growth, margin expansion, cost savings and working capital management."

Looking to the fourth quarter, the company expects to earn 67 cents to 70 cents a share. Analysts expect 68 cents a share; the company earned 63 cents a share in the fourth quarter of 2002. For full-year 2003, the company expects to earn $2.22 to $2.25 a share, compared with $1.37 a share in 2002.

First-quarter 2004 earnings, however, are expected to be hurt by spending to launch new products, such as Glad Press 'n Seal, as well as higher raw-material costs and research and development investments, the company said. Clorox expects earnings in the range of 57 cents to 62 cents a share, compared with 65 cents a share in the prior-year quarter. Analysts currently expect 73 cents a share.

For 2004, the company anticipates earnings of $2.47 to $2.57 a share. Analysts expect $2.55 a share, on average.

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