Kimberly-Clark (KMB) said its fourth-quarter profit slipped 18.5% and missed Wall Street expectations as sales climbed at a slower-than-anticipated rate on softer demand in certain developed markets.

The healthcare company reported net income of $422 million, or $1.01 a share, compared with $520 million, or $1.20 a share, in the year-earlier period. Excluding special items, Kimberly-Clark said it earned $1.28 a share, just below average estimates of $1.30 in a Thomson Reuters poll.

Revenue for the three-month period was $5.17 billion, up 2% from $5.07 billion a year ago on higher selling prices and sales volumes, but narrowly missing the Street’s view of $5.22 billion.

"We delivered solid improvements in organic sales, adjusted operating profit margin and adjusted earnings per share in the fourth quarter despite a continued challenging environment,” Kimberly-Clark CEO Thomas Falk said in a statement.

However, he noted bottom-line results for the full year were somewhat below the company’s expectations, mostly due to higher-than-expected costs and soft demand in certain developed markets.  

Looking deeper into 2012, the company continues to expect difficult economic conditions, at least in the near terms, particularly in developed markets. Kimberly-Clark sees fiscal earnings in the range of $5 to $5.15 a share, which would be up 4% or 7% from 2011.

Analysts are looking for $5.24 a share.

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