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Wal-Mart tops forecasts
No. 1 retailer overcomes sluggish sales growth to post 14 percent rise in fourth-quarter earnings.
February 18, 2003: 4:53 PM EST

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - Wal-Mart Stores Inc. reported Tuesday its fiscal fourth-quarter profits rose 14 percent to a record, topping Wall Street forecasts despite disappointing holiday sales.

The world's largest retailer said it earned $2.5 billion, or 57 cents a share, in the quarter ended Jan. 31, up from $2.2 billion, or 49 cents, a year earlier. Analysts surveyed by earnings tracker First Call had a consensus forecast of 56 cents.

Total sales rose 10.7 percent to $71.1 billion from $64.2 billion, missing First Call's forecast of $71.5 billion.

Sales at stores open at least a year, a closely watched measure known as same-store sales, gained 2.7 percent. The company previously said holiday same-store sales came in lower than its earlier forecasts of a 3 to 5 percent gain.

Chief Financial Officer Tom Schoewe said the company should be able to earn between 40 and 42 cents a share in the first quarter, and $2.00 and $2.05 a share for the current fiscal year.

While that's at or slightly below the First Call consensus forecasts of 42 cents for the quarter and $2.05 for the year, the company said its guidance includes some charges not included in current forecasts, such as expensing stock options, which should lower EPS by 2 or 3 cents for the year, and a change in accounting for leases. Schoewe said excluding those charges, the company is comfortable it should be able to meet current forecasts.

Shares of Wal-Mart (WMT: Research, Estimates), a component of the Dow Jones industrial average, finished 7 cents lower at $49.08 on Tuesday after the report. That comes after a gain of $1.51 to $49.15 Friday, ahead of the three-day weekend in the United States for Presidents Day.  Top of page

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