Manufacturer United Technologies (UTX) said Wednesday it grew its first-quarter profits by a stronger-than-expected 17%, prompting the blue-chip company to raise its full-year earnings guidance.

Hartford-based UTC said it earned $1.01 billion, or $1.11 a share, last quarter, compared with a profit of $866 million, or 93 cents a share, a year earlier. Analysts had projected EPS of just $1.07.

Net sales increased 11% to $13.34 billion, solidly surpassing forecasts from analysts for $12.85 billion. Gross margins increased to 27.8% from 27.5%.

“This was another solid quarter for UTC with broad-based acceleration in organic growth, as well as strong earnings momentum and cash generation," CEO Louis Chenevert said in a statement. "Nearly 20% growth in earnings per share reflects excellent conversion, especially as we continued to increase our investments in game changing products and technologies.”

Citing a “strong start to the year,” UTC upped its full-year EPS forecast to $5.25 to $5.40, up from $5.20 to $5.35 previously. The new guidance represents EPS growth of 11% to 14% and also calls for sales to grow about 5% to $57 billion, which would be the high end of its prior range.

“The global economic recovery continues to gain traction as evidenced by the momentum of our end markets,” Chenevert said.

UTC said it still plans to repurchase about $2.5 billion worth of its stock in 2011 and still looks to deploy about $1.5 billion to be used for acquisitions.

Buoyed by the earnings beat and upgraded guidance, shares of UTC rose by more than 4% to $85.85 Wednesday.

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