Northrop Grumman profit rises 21% in first quarter

Northrop Grumman Corp., bolstered by sales of unmanned aircraft, posted a 21% jump in profit for the first quarter Wednesday and said it was raising its earnings forecast for the year.

The results for the Century City-based aerospace giant beat Wall Street expectations, which led Northrop shares to rise $1.49, or 2.2%, to $68.67.

Northrop, which has sprawling facilities in Redondo Beach, El Segundo and Palmdale, saw a sales increase in four of the company’s five business units. The only exception: a slight revenue decline in its information systems business as it won fewer contracts from local and state governments for computer services.

Sales at the company’s largest unit, aerospace systems, which makes fighter jets and robotic spy planes, increased 10% to $2.7 billion.

“We continue to see growth in our manned and unmanned programs,” Northrop Chief Executive Wesley G. Bush said during a teleconference call with analysts Wednesday.

Even shipbuilding, which in recent years has financially hurt the company through delays and higher costs at its shipyards in Mississippi and Louisiana, posted higher sales, rising 26% to $1.72 billion.

“We’re clearly not out of the woods yet,” Bush said. “But it does indicate a good step up over last year.”

Northrop’s quarterly net income was $469 million, or $1.53 a share, up from $389 million, or $1.17, in the year-earlier period. Analysts, on average, had expected earnings of $1.32 a share on revenue of $8.07 billion.

Revenue rose 9% to $8.61 billion.

With the better-than-expected results, Northrop said it was bumping up its 2010 earnings estimates by 5 cents to a range of $5.75 to $6 a share.

Northrop revealed this week that it had selected Northern Virginia as the future home of its corporate office. In January, the company announced that it would move its headquarters from Los Angeles, where it was founded, to the Washington, D.C., area to be closer to its key customer, the U.S. government.