Chewing tobacco company UST ( UST) said its 2003 earnings will be in line with analysts' forecasts, and could exceed them if volume shows any improvement.

The company said it expects earnings to be $2.99 a share, with an "upside potential of $3.07, if volume trends accelerate above projections in its two major businesses: smokeless tobacco and wine," the company said.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call were forecasting earnings of $2.98 a share.

The company also argued that since its business isn't cigarettes, it should be valued differently than other tobacco stocks.

The litigation profile of cigarette companies is different than smokeless-tobacco firms, among other things, the company said. "Wall Street continues to apply a cigarette discount to our stock, which we believe is inappropriate because many fail to recognize that smokeless tobacco is distinctly different from cigarettes," UST said.

The shares finished 13 cents higher at $31.50.

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