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Mead Johnson 4Q Profit Falls 14% On Higher Costs

DOW JONES NEWSWIRES Mead Johnson Nutrition Co.'s (MJN) fourth-quarter earnings fell 14% as the company was hit by higher commodities costs and operating expenses. For the new year, the company projected per-share earnings of $3 to $3.10, below recent estimates of analysts polled by Thomson Reuters for $3.18. The company has been focusing on growth in emerging markets, and unveiled plans for a $325 million manufacturing and technology center in Singapore last month. Sales in Asia and Latin America -- which represent about two-thirds of the company's topline -- were up 17%. In North American and Europe, sales were up 6%. Mead Johnson reported a profit of $85.6 million, or 42 cents a share, down from $99.6 million, or 48 cents a share, a year earlier. Excluding litigation and restructuring-related costs, earnings were down at 52 cents from 57 cents. The company in October expected per-share earnings of 51 cents. Revenue increased 14% to $911.3 million amid higher prices and as volume rose 11%. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters recently expected $896 million. Gross margin eased to 61.1% from 62.3% amid higher commodities costs. Overhead costs rose 8.6% while advertising and promotion expenses were up 15%. Research and development costs were up 39%. The company was hit with a short-lived recall of a batch of powdered Enfamil baby formula last month after a baby in Missouri died from a rare bacterial infection. Early this month U.S. health regulators said tests of the formula showed no signs of contamination and some major retailers began returning the product to their shelves. Mead was spun off from drug maker Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. (BMY) in 2009, one of the largest such deals of the last two decades. Shares closed Wednesday at $72.60 and were inactive premarket. The stock has recovered about 5.6% since hitting a more than 9-month low when the recall was unveiled. -By Tess Stynes, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2481; Tess.Stynes@dowjones.com

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