GOLDEN, Colo. (AP) _ Adolph Coors Co. said its fourth-quarter earnings rose 79 percent as higher prices, improved European sales and favorable foreign exchange rates helped it more than offset a decline in U.S. demand for its beer. Its shares climbed nearly 10 percent.

Coors reported Thursday it earned $36.1 million, or 98 cents per share, in the quarter ended Dec. 28, up from $20.2 million, or 55 cents per share, a year ago.

Analysts were looking for earnings of 68 cents a share, according to a survey by Thomson First Call.

Sales rose to $1.4 billion from $1.33 billion a year ago.

While beer sales in Europe were edged up, sales in the Americas slipped to 5.1 million barrels from 5.2 million barrels in the fourth quarter 2002.

``Going forward, our focus will be sustaining the progress that we made late last year in Europe and restoring volume growth in key markets in the Americas business,'' Coors Brewing Co. CEO Leo Kiely said.

Kiely said Coors had a strong January and expects to launch its own low-carb beer, Aspen Edge, in March, along with three new flavors of Zima as it heads into the peak summer season.

Coors is counting on the offerings to generate excitement for the company amid a flurry of new drinks from competitors.

The company implemented new supply chain systems last year that hurt fourth-quarter earnings but should lead to improved service and lower costs, Kiely said.

For the full year, Coors reported net income of $174.6 million, or $4.77 per share, up from $161.6 million, or $4.42 per share, for 2002. Sales rose to $5.39 billion from $4.96 billion.

Coors shares rose $5.58, or 10 percent, to close at $61.50 on the New York Stock Exchange.

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On the Net: http://www.coors.com