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By Ransdell Pierson
April 16 (Reuters) - Abbott Laboratories Inc reported better-than-expected quarterly earnings on cost controls, but sales came in slightly below Wall Street expectations.
The company on Wednesday said it earned $375 million, or 24 cents per share in the first quarter. That compared with $544 million, or 34 cents per share, in the year-ago quarter, when Abbott took charges for licensing and acquisitions.
Excluding special charges, Abbott earned 41 cents per share. Analysts, on average, were expecting 36 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Wells Fargo analyst Larry Biegelsen said operating expenses of $2 billion in the quarter were $100 million below his forecasts, and bolstered results.
Global company sales fell 2.5 percent to $5.24 billion. Wall Street expected $5.28 billion. Sales would have risen 0.5 percent if not for the stronger dollar, which lowers the value of sales in markets outside the United States.
Sales of nutritional products, the company's biggest product line which include Similac infant formula and Ensure beverages for adults, fell 4 percent to $1.63 billion.
Abbott said a recall of its milk formula brands in China and Vietnam last August, due to fears an ingredient provided by an outside supplier might be contaminated, crimped sales of the products by $75 million in the first quarter.
Abbott medical devices also struggled in the quarter, with sales falling 1.2 percent to $1.31 billion. Declines for diabetes care products more than offset strong gains for the company's line of medical optics brands.
Company shares rose 1.3 percent in premarket trading to $38.45. The stock closed Tuesday at $37.97 on the New York Stock Exchange.
The company reaffirmed it continues to expect full-year 2014 earnings from continuing operations, excluding special items, of $2.16 to $2.26 per share. (Reporting by Ransdell Pierson; Editing by Sofina Mirza-Reid)