UST third-quarter net profit falls

CHICAGO (Reuters) - UST Inc UST.N posted lower third-quarter net profit as it spent more to try to defend sales of its smokeless tobacco products from increased competition.

The company, which has agreed to be acquired by Altria Group Inc MO.N, also stood by its full-year earnings target on Friday.

UST, which makes Skoal and Copenhagen smokeless tobacco and Columbia Crest wine, reported profit of $125.3 million, or 84 cents a share, compared with $133.6 million, or 84 cents a share, a year earlier. Earnings per share were flat because the company had been repurchasing stock.

Excluding one-time items, earnings were 91 cents a share, a penny higher than the analysts’ average forecast.

UST’s share of the U.S. smokeless tobacco market was 57.4 percent, the same as the second quarter and down 3 percentage points from a year earlier. While smokeless tobacco sales in general have been on the rise, UST’s main business, the premium segment, has suffered because of soaring gasoline prices and the weak U.S. economy.

Sales in the smokeless tobacco business decreased 5.2 percent to $364.1 million, and segment profit fell 8.6 percent.

Reporting by Brad Dorfman; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn