* Q4 net excluding items is 78 cents a share
* Sales increase 5.7 percent to $309.7 million
* Backs 2009 profit outlook of $2.93 to $3.03 a share
CHICAGO, Feb 3 (Reuters) - Edwards Lifesciences Corp (EW.N) STJ.N said on Tuesday fourth-quarter net earnings more than doubled on strong sales of its replacement heart valves.
Net income rose to $38.1 million, or 66 cents a share, from $15.8 million, or 27 cents a share, a year ago.
Excluding special items, earnings increased to $45.2 million, or 78 cents a share, from $33.7 million, or 56 cents a share, a year ago.
Analysts, on average, expected Edwards to earn 76 cents a share, excluding items, according to Reuters Estimates.
“Our gross profit margin substantially increased in the fourth quarter and we expect another year of improvement in 2009,” said Chairman and Chief Executive Michael Mussallem.
Edwards, the world’s largest maker of heart valves, said fourth-quarter sales rose 5.7 percent to $309.7 million.
Heart valve therapy sales increased 13.9 percent to $149.7 million, boosted by the U.S. launch of the company’s Magna mitral valve. Sales of critical care products grew 4.6 percent to $118.2 million.
The Irvine, California-based medical device maker reiterated its forecast for full-year earnings of between $2.93 and $3.03 a share on total sales of $1.24 billion to $1.30 billion.
It forecast first-quarter earnings per share of 66 cents to 70 cents. (Reporting by Susan Kelly; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)