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    Ralston Purina Q2 Earnings Jump on Strong Sales

    (Reuters) - Ralston Purina Co., the largest U.S. pet food maker, said on Monday that fiscal third-quarter net earnings rose nearly 27 percent, driven by firm sales volumes in all segments of its business and lower interest expenses.

    (Reuters) - Ralston Purina Co., the largest U.S. pet food maker, said on Monday that fiscal third-quarter net earnings rose nearly 27 percent, driven by firm sales volumes in all segments of its business and lower interest expenses.

    The company, which is being bought by Swiss-based Nestle SA , reported net earnings of $77.5 million, or 26 cents a diluted share, compared with $61.1 million, or 21 cents, a year ago.

    Analysts' estimates ranged from 25 cents per share to 28 cents with a consensus at 27 cents, according to market research firm Thomson Financial/First Call.

    Earnings from continuing operations that excluded unusual items, such as merger-related costs, were $86.2 million, or 29 cents a diluted share. Nestle has proposed selling off some pet food brands in Spain, Greece and Italy to gain European Union approval of the acquisition.

    Sales rose to $707.2 million from $668.3 million a year ago. Shares of Ralston closed at $31.14 Friday on the New York Stock Exchange.

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