Lehman Brothers ( LEH) beat estimates in the fourth quarter, despite profit falling 12%. For the three months ending Nov. 30, the New York investment bank made $886 million, or $1.54 a share. That's down 12% from the year-ago period in which it made $1 billion or $1.72 a share, but flat compared with the third quarter. Revenue slipped 3% to $4.4 billion in the quarter, Lehman said. Analysts on average expected the company to earn $1.42 a share in the final quarter of the year, according to Thomson Financial. For the full year, Lehman's profit rose 5% to $4.2 billion, or $7.26 a share, compared to $4 billion or $6.81 a share in 2006. "Despite what continues to be a difficult operating environment, the firm's results for the quarter highlight our ability to perform across market cycles and deliver value to our shareholders," said Chairman and CEO Richard S. Fuld Jr. "Our global franchise and brand have never been stronger, and our record results for the year reflect the continued diversified growth of our businesses." Lehman, the first among its brokerage brethren to report fourth-quarter earnings, provides a somewhat optimistic start to the quarterly reporting season for big Wall Street banks. Goldman Sachs ( GS), Morgan Stanley ( MS) and Bear Stearns ( BSC) are expected to report next week. As the credit markets roiled this year, Lehman has been one of the few firms to avoid the mega-writedowns from leveraged loans and collateralized debt obligations, or CDOs. In the fourth quarter, Lehman took an $830 million writedown, after a more than $1 billion writedown in the third quarter, the bank said.