Strong sales of replacement joints drove solid fourth-quarter earnings from Biomet ( BMET). The company topped Wall Street estimates, reaffirmed guidance and announced a quarterly dividend and share buy-back plan.

Biomet announced fourth-quarter net income of $79.9 million, or 31 cents a share, up from $77.7 million, or 30 cents a share, a year ago. On an adjusted basis, which is how Wall Street analysts view the company, Biomet earnings came in at $95.2 million, or 37 cents a share, up 22% from last year's quarter and a penny better than the 36-cent consensus estimate.

The company said that sales came in at $447.2 million for the quarter, higher than the $430.9 expected by analysts and up 19% year over year. The effect of foreign currency boosted sales by $17.3 million, however, and without it the company's year-over-year sales growth would have been 14%.

The company credited strong sales of new products and knee and hip instruments as big drivers of fourth-quarter revenue, especially domestic sales of reconstructive products, which rose 20% from last year. Sales of spinal hardware and orthobiologic spinal products rose 32% year over year.

Going forward, Biomet said the strong business would likely continue, with the company telling investors that it was comfortable with first-quarter estimates. Currently, analysts expect the company to earn 35 cents a share on an adjusted basis in the first quarter of 2005, on $429.6 million in sales.

In addition to earnings, Biomet also declared a 20-cent cash dividend payable on July 23 to shareholders of record as of July 16 and said the company's board had authorized the repurchase of 2.5 million shares, which will be bought over the next year. So far, Biomet said it has repurchased $609.4 million of its own stock, or 20.8 million shares.

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