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posted a narrower loss and higher revenue in the fiscal fourth quarter, but the provider of billing services lowered its guidance for the first quarter of fiscal 2004.

The outlook sent shares of CheckFree lower in extended trading. The stock was losing $4.89, or 18.6%, to $21.40 in Instinet trading after the close.

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The company reported revenue of $144.6 million, up from $127.9 million a year ago. CheckFree lost $17 million, or 19 cents a share, in the quarter, compared with a loss of $59.4 million, or 67 cents a share, for the same quarter last year.

Excluding items, the company would have earned 22 cents a share, vs. 14 cents in the prior year. Analysts polled by Thomson First Call were looking for a profit of 23 cents, before items.

For fiscal 2004, CheckFree forecast earnings of 93 cents to 97 cents a share, before items, and roughly break-even when calculating its results using generally accepted accounting principles. The company projected first-quarter revenue of $135 million to $140 million, and earnings before items of 18 cents to 20 cents a share. Including items, CheckFree expects to lose 8 cents to 12 cents a share.

Analysts expect first-quarter earnings of 22 cents a share and revenue of nearly $145 million. For the full year, analysts are looking for a profit of 96 cents.