US food and consumer goods company Sara Lee has posted a fall in quarterly earnings, hit by weak performances by its foodservice unit and underwear business.

Chicago-based Sara Lee reported earnings of US$296m, or 37 cents a share, in the fourth quarter to 28 June, compared to $351m, or 43 cents a share, in the year-ago period.

Analysts polled by Reuters Research had expected earnings of 38 cents a share. Sara Lee’s April guidance had been for fourth-quarter earnings of between 36 and 38 cents per share.

The company’s sales rose 3% to $4.6bn, helped by the weak dollar.

Sara Lee said it expects challenging market conditions to continue into the next quarter, reported Reuters.

The company forecast first-quarter profit of 23 cents to 28 cents a share, compared to 38 cents a share a year earlier. For the full fiscal 2004 year, Sara Lee said it expects earnings of between $1.51 and $1.61 a share, compared to $1.50 in fiscal 2003.