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Profit Plunges at Sigmatel

The company doesn't offer better hope for the future.

Fourth-quarter profit plunged 76% at



, but the company still topped Wall Street's earnings expectations.

But the multimedia chipmaker fell shy of analysts' sales forecasts and offered a much worse-than-expected forecast for the current quarter.

Investors frowned on the news, sending the stock reeling after the bell. In recent after-hours exchanges, Sigmatel's stock was off $1.22, or 10%, to $11.56.

In the just-completed quarter, Sigmatel, which provides chips for some of

Apple Computer's

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(AAPL) - Get Apple Inc. Report

iPods, earned $4.6 million, or 12 cents a share. That was off from the year-ago period, when the company earned $19.5 million, or 52 cents a share.

Sales grew 4% year over year to $82 million.

Excluding stock-based compensation and acquisition-related charges, the company would have earned $6 million, or 16 cents a share, down from $21 million, or 56 cents a share, a year earlier.

On this basis, analysts polled by Thomson First Call were expecting the company to earn 15 cents a share on sales of $83.82 million. In October, the company predicted it would earn 10 cents to 16 cents a share -- 14 cents to 20 cents a share excluding charges -- on sales ranging from $81 million to $91 million. The company's earnings forecast for the fourth quarter was below analysts' expectations at the time.

The company repeated the theme on Tuesday. It expects to lose 10 cents to 17 cents a share in the current quarter, or 1 cent to 8 cents without charges, on sales ranging from $52 million to $60 million.

Wall Street was hoping for much better. Analysts had previously predicted the company would earn -- not lose -- 10 cents a share in the current quarter on a pro forma basis on $76.23 million in sales.

Shares of Sigmatel closed regular trading on Tuesday off 8 cents, or less than 1%, to $12.78.