General Mills ( GIS), the maker of Cheerios cereal and Betty Crocker dessert mixes, reported a 33% decline in fiscal third-quarter earnings as input costs were higher and sales rose modestly. Third-quarter earnings were $288.9 million, or 85 cents a share, compared with earnings of $430.1 million, or $1.23 a share, a year earlier. Sales rose 4% to $3.54 billion. Foreign currency translation reduced sales growth by three percentage points. Excluding gains from mark-to-market valuations on some commodity positions this year and last, and a gain from an insurance settlement in 2009, earnings were 79 cents a share compared with 87 cents a year earlier. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected General Mills to earn 88 cents a share in the third quarter on sales of $3.54 billion. The company said third-quarter net sales for its U.S. retail operations rose 8%, and net sales at its international segment increased 10% on a constant-currency basis. The company raised its earnings guidance for fiscal 2009 to $3.87 to $3.89 a share before any impact from mark-to-market valuation and other items. General Mills previously expected earnings before items of $3.83 to $3.87 a share. Analysts expect General Mills to report fiscal 2009 earnings of $3.94 a share.