* Earnings ex-items 45 cents/share, matches expectations
* Sales up 3 pct to $1.48 bln
* Shares fall 8 pct (Recasts, adds comparisons to estimates, stock fall)
NEW YORK, Feb 12 (Reuters) - Ecolab Inc (ECL.N), a provider of cleaning supplies and services, reported quarterly earnings in line with Wall Street expectations but forecast weak results in the current quarter, sending its shares down 8 percent.
Ecolab said on Thursday it expects first-quarter profit of 30 cents to 34 cents a share before special items, below Wall Street estimates of 41 cents. It said institutional sales will be hurt by reduced incentive promotions to distributors.
“Without the encouragement of promotions, distributors will likely wait to place orders,” Merrill Lynch analyst David Ridley-Lane said in a research note.
He said investors were concerned about the company’s guidance but added that “as U.S. distributors’ inventories of Ecolab products decline, we believe re-orders will occur.”
Ecolab stood by its 2009 profit forecast for earnings of $1.95 to $2.05 a share before special items. Analysts expect $2.00.
Fourth-quarter earnings fell to $80 million, or 33 cents per share, from $113.4 million, or 45 cents per share, a year earlier. Earnings excluding special items were 45 cents per share, in line with Wall Street forecasts.
Revenue rose 3 percent to $1.48 billion, compared with forecasts for $1.51 billion.
Ecolab shares were down $2.74 to $31.51 in morning trading on the New York Stock Exchange. (Reporting by Nick Zieminski; Editing by Derek Caney and John Wallace)