Stock trading outfit LaBranche ( LAB) powered higher Friday after reporting a bigger-than-expected profit in the fourth quarter. The company earned $9.3 million, or 15 cents a share, in the quarter, compared with a charge-soaked loss of $200.6 million, or $3.36 a share, a year earlier. Revenue rose 18% from a year ago to $83.8 million. Analysts had been forecasting earnings of 6 cents a share on revenue of $71.2 million in the quarter, according to Thomson First Call. LaBranche was plagued over the last two years by anemic trading volume and regulatory investigations into trading on the New York Stock Exchange. The year-ago quarter included big charges for fines and restitution as well as a writedown of the value of its corporate goodwill. By segment, LaBranche's revenue from principal transactions was $50.8 million in the 2004 quarter compared with $45.2 million last year, while commission revenue was $24.7 million compared with $23.7 million. Its biggest ongoing expense was compensation, which was $26.9 million in the 2004 quarter, up from $22.9 million. The stock gained $1.02, or 12.2%, to $9.40 Friday morning.