St. Jude Medical Inc. will hit its earnings forecast for the quarter, driven by strong sales of its atrial fibrillation products, preliminary figures released Wednesday said.

The Little Canada devicemaker also announced its board has authorized a $500 million stock repurchase program, which could be used to offset dilution related to stock-option activity. The program "reflects the strong confidence our management team and our board of directors have in our long-term growth and success," CEO Daniel Starks said in a news release.

Total revenue grew 1 percent to $1.44 billion for the quarter ended Jan. 3, compared to the year-ago period. The early figures didn't preview the quarter's net income, but the company said it would meet its previous earnings guidance of $1.02 to $1.04 per share. Analysts' consensus was $1.03 per share.

St. Jude Medical shares gained $1.77 Wednesday, closing at $67.56, up 2.7 percent. As in years past, St. Jude announced its preliminary fourth-quarter results at an industry conference ahead of its regularly scheduled earnings call on Jan. 28.

Investment bank Leerink Partners in Boston told investors Wednesday that the preliminary results were in line with its expectations, which remain positive.

"For [St. Jude], we'd expect the in-line results to be viewed favorably given the mounting [currency-exchange] head winds facing the sector and some sales misses earlier in the year," Leerink analysts wrote, giving the stock an "outperform" rating.

Companywide, revenue from all sales of cardiac-rhythm devices, St. Jude's largest segment, sank 3 percent, to $685 million. Marquee products like implantable defibrillators and pacemakers showed sales declines but that was offset by products to treat atrial fibrillation, which grew by a healthy 12 percent to $283 million.

Atrial fibrillation, which occurs when the heart's upper chambers experience an uncontrolled rhythm, is considered the most common form of cardiac arrhythmia in the U.S., affecting 2.7 million people. Leerink noted that the sales of AF products beat industry expectations, and could signal a wider recovery for the company's devices.

Joe Carlson • 612-673-4779

Twitter: @_JoeCarlson