Private equity and real estate investor Blackstone Group said the value of its investments increased sharply in the fourth quarter, boosting quarterly earnings and beating analysts' forecasts.

Fourth quarter economic net income, or ENI, was $513 million, up from $329 million a year earlier.

ENI strips out items such as noncash charges for vesting equity-based compensation and the amortization of intangible assets. It is the measure that private equity firms prefer to report and that analysts follow.

Blackstone said that in 2010 it made nearly $10 billion of new investments. At the end of the year it had $30 billion of uninvested capital, or "dry powder," it said.

It recently raised its latest buyout fund -- called BCP VI -- which reached nearly $15 billion as of January 7. Blackstone shares rose 3.8 percent in premarket trading to $17.30.

The company is paying a quarterly distribution to shareholders of 32 cents a share, bringing its full-year distribution for 2010 to 62 cents a share.

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