US food and consumer goods giant Sara Lee has reported a 19.5% rise in fourth-quarter net income and said its fiscal 2004 earnings had met expectations.

The company posted net income of US$354m, or 44 cents per share, for the fourth quarter to 3 July, compared to $296m, or 37 cents per share, in the year-ago period. Net sales rose 11% to $5.1bn, helped by favourable foreign exchange rates.

For fiscal 2004, net income rose to $1.27bn, or $1.59 per share, from $1.22bn, or $1.50 per share, in the previous year. Full-year sales rose 7% to $19.6bn.

“Our overall earnings performance for fiscal 2004 met expectations despite a difficult operating environment, particularly in the first half of the year,” said chairman and chief executive officer C. Steven McMillan.

“As the year progressed, we saw improved retail and general economic conditions as well as the benefits of restructuring activities in our meats and bakery businesses. These positive factors, though, were mitigated by rapidly rising commodity costs,” he added.

Sara Lee said it currently expects diluted EPS for the first quarter of fiscal 2005 to fall within a range of 39 cents to 44 cents, compared to 29 cents in the year-ago period. Full year fiscal 2005 diluted earnings per share are expected to be in a range of $1.61 to $1.71.