By BridgeNews Strong holiday candy sales created solid fourth-quarter profit growth at Hershey Foods Corp., reports company officials. Net income for the maker of Hershey's Kisses and Reese's Peanut Butter Cups rose 18%, exceeding Wall Street expectations and reinforcing the company's recovery from late 1999 shipping disruptions. Hershey reported earnings of $116 million, or 84 cents a share, compared with $98 million, or 70 cents a share, during the same period a year ago. The per-share results exceeded by 2 cents the consensus projection of industry analysts surveyed by First Call/Thomson Financial. Revenues increased 8% to $1.2 billion, in line with most analysts' expectations. Results for the period ended Dec. 31 did not include the company's recent purchase of Nabisco's breath fresheners and gum business, though. Hershey completed that $135 million purchase Dec. 15. The quarter's results, which included the bulk of Hershey's shipments for the upcoming Valentine's Day holiday, further convinced analysts and investors that the company has overcome its 1999 nightmare. "It was a good quarter," says David Nelson, an analyst with Credit Suisse First Boston. "It was a better than I thought they would likely have at the start of the quarter. "Any distribution issues out there aren't of big significance anymore."