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Rockwell Automation Profit Plunges 77% On Decline In Margins

DOW JONES NEWSWIRES Rockwell Automation Inc. (ROK) fiscal fourth-quarter earnings fell 77% on a decline in revenue and profit margins, but the bottom line widely beat analysts' predictions. Chairman and Chief Executive Keith D. Nosbusch said while year-over-year results for the maker of factory-automation equipment and software were weak, the company saw sequential revenue growth, indicating stabilization in demand and economic conditions. Strength in emerging economies in Latin America and the Asia Pacific region has failed to offset weakness in its two largest markets, Europe and North America. Rockwell's sales and profit declined sharply in the recession as manufacturers--seeing orders shrivel--reduced capacity. For the quarter ended Sept. 30, the company posted a profit of $28.9 million, or 20 cents a share, down from $125.6 million, or 87 cents a share, a year earlier. Excluding restructuring and other charges, profit fell to 37 cents from $1.08 a share. Revenue decreased 28% to $1.07 billion. A survey of analysts by Thomson Reuters anticipated a 27-cent profit per share on $1.06 billion in revenue. Gross margin dropped to 34% from 39.6%. The architecture and software division had a 74% drop in profit, while the control products and solutions division's earnings dropped two-thirds. Revenue fell 31% and 25% at the divisions, respectively. Rockwell projected earnings for the just-started fiscal year of $1.25 to $1.75 a share on revenue between $4.1 billion and $4.4 billion. Analysts projected $1.51 a share and $4.22 billion. Shares closed Friday at $43.32 and weren't active premarket. The stock, which has more than doubled from a six-year low in March, is up 34% in 2009. -By Joan E. Solsman, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2291; joan.solsman@dowjones.com

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