UPDATE 1-Itron Q4 earnings beat estimates; shares rise

Feb 12 (Reuters) - Itron Inc ITRI.O, a maker of power meters, reported fourth-quarter earnings that beat Wall Street estimates, helped by an upswing in sales at its core North American market, and forecast first-quarter revenue above analysts' expectations.

The company forecast first-quarter revenue between $450 million and $465 million. Analysts, on average, were expecting revenue of $421.34 million according to Reuters Estimates.

Itron, which is based in Liberty Lake, Washington, posted fourth-quarter earnings of 12 cents a share compared with 28 cents a share a year ago. Revenue jumped 200 percent from a year ago to about $481 million.

Excluding special items, Itron earned 81 cents a share compared with 48 cents a share a year earlier.

Analysts were expecting earnings of 73 cents a share, excluding special items, and revenue of $445.18 million, according to Reuters Estimates.

Itron North America, which accounts for about half of the company’s revenue, reported sales of $177 million for the quarter, reversing a downward trend over the past three quarters.

For 2008, the company forecast earnings of $3.20 to $3.45 a share on revenue of $1.87 billion to $1.91 billion. Analysts were expecting earnings $3.33 on revenue of $1.82 billion.

Itron’s automated meters help utilities reduce energy usage by enabling them to track it. Increasingly, utilities are replacing old customer meters with automated systems that allow them to take detailed measurements of energy usage.

Shares of the company rose 7.3 percent to $80.90 in trading after the bell. It closed at 75.49 on Wednesday on Nasdaq. (Reporting by Biswarup Gooptu in Bangalore; Editing by Anupama Dwivedi)