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* Higher volumes, stable prices boost profit
* JBS recently expanded into Brazilian poultry
* Profits fall short of analysts' estimate
SAO PAULO, March 13 (Reuters) - Brazil's JBS SA, the world's biggest beef producer, posted fourth-quarter profits on Wednesday that came in at a fraction of estimates by a poll of analysts this week despite stable prices and rising volumes boosting its bottom line.
Earnings were 66.4 million reais ($33.85 million) compared with 25.6 million reais in the same quarter a year earlier and 367 million reais in the third quarter of 2012.
The company said its Brazilian unit benefited from higher beef sales on the internal market and stable prices. Exports grew strongly in both volume and price, it said. Higher prices also boosted its recently-begun Brazilian poultry operations.
JBS started out as a family butcher in Brazil and shot to the top spot in beef globally through an aggressive takeover strategy, which it has recently resumed. JBS bought local poultry producer Agrovento in November and plans to open six additional slaughterhouses in Brazil.
Fourth-quarter profit was only about one quarter of the 282.8 million reais average in a Reuters poll. Analysts had expected larger earnings citing stronger performance across JBS's South American operations and lower debt servicing costs.
The South American operations, known as the Mercosul unit, include operations in Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay and Paraguay. Its revenue jumped 39 percent from the fourth quarter of 2011 and 15 percent from the third quarter of 2012.
JBS's U.S. chicken unit Pilgrims Pride Corp. saw net revenue rise 20 percent year-on-year to $2.2 billion, and the company said higher prices for the meat had helped offset high feed costs.
JBS's earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortization, a gauge of operating profit known as EBITDA, rose 25 percent from a year ago to 1.17 billion reais in the quarter, in line with analysts' estimates for 1.16 billion reais.
JBS stock closed down 0.28 percent in Sao Paulo before its earnings were posted.
For the calendar year of 2012, net profits reached 718.9 million reais and revenues were 75.7 billion reais.