VCA Antech Inc. shares fell on Friday, a day after operator of veterinary hospitals and labs reported lower fourth-quarter profit due to the recession, and provided a cautious outlook for 2010.

The Los Angeles company reported net income of $25.4 million (29 cents per share), compared with $25.7 million (30 cents) a year earlier. Excluding one-time items, net income was 28 cents per share, meeting the average expectation of analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters.

Economic uncertainty, which makes pet owners cautious about spend a lot on elective services, makes it hard to predict when business will recover, said Chief Executive Bob Antin, but he noted fourth quarter was better than the preceding three quarters.

Revenue rose 4 percent to $315 million, higher than the analyst consensus of less than $307 million. Revenue from animal hospital operations was up 3.6, largely driven by nine recently acquired practices. Laboratory revenue, however, rose 2 percent, predominantly from internal revenue growth.

“When I look at the (animal health care) industry, one of the great predictors in the industry is the lab, so when the lab recovers, it gives me confidence that the future looks bright,” said Chief Executive Bob Antin during a conference call with analysts.

For the full year, VCA Antech earned $131.4 million ($1.53) 1 percent lower than in 2008. Revenue rose 3 percent to $1.31 billion.

For 2010, the company said it expects to earn $1.60 to $1.68 per share on revenue of $1.39 billion to $1.42 billion in fiscal 2010. Analysts on average are expecting 2010 income of $1.68 per share on revenue of $1.37 billion.

Shares closed down $1.21, or nearly 5 percent, to $24.06 on the Nasdaq.

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