(Adds analysts comments, updates share movement)
By Shalini Sen
BANGALORE, Feb 21 (Reuters) - Patterson Cos Inc (PDCO.O) reported a 10 percent rise in quarterly revenue that topped Wall Street estimates, driven by a strong performance at its dental unit, and forecast a fourth-quarter profit that could meet or exceed market expectations.
Third-quarter profit, however, came in line with analysts' forecasts as a 9 percent rise in operating expenses largely offset the increase in revenue.
"Operating expenses (were) up in the quarter given higher commissions associated with above-expected dental equipment sales," Robert W. Baird analyst Jeff Johnson said in an e-mail.
He added that continued investments in new branch offices for the Patterson Medical segment, its rehabilitation supply and equipment unit, also drove expenses higher. The company opened three new Patterson Medical branches in the quarter.
Total sales rose 10 percent to $776.9 million, beating analysts' average estimate of $758.6 million.
Sales at Patterson Dental, its largest business, rose 9 percent to $584.9 million, helped by a strong rebound in equipment sales.
Patterson, which also caters to the veterinarian supplies market, earned $60.4 million, or 45 cents a share, compared with $58.6 million, or 43 cents a share, in the year-ago period.
For the fourth quarter, Patterson forecast earnings of 50 cents to 52 cents per share and said the outlook reflects the impact of shares repurchased in the third quarter.
"The company is finally using its cash flows and balance sheet to repurchase stock, which will help augment EPS growth in the future," Lehman Brothers analyst Steven Postal said.
Analysts on average were expecting the company, based in St. Paul, Minnesota, to earn 50 cents a share, before special items, according to Reuters Estimates.
Patterson shares were up 48 cents at $34.87 in afternoon trade on Nasdaq. They touched a high of $36.45 earlier in the session. (Additional reporting by Jennifer Robin Raj in Bangalore; Editing by Himani Sarkar)