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Wal-Mart, Target Post Higher Fourth-Quarter Profits

NEW YORK - Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. on Thursday separately reported that they achieved higher fourth-quarter profits despite a tough pre-Christmas retailing environment. Wal-Mart posted an 8.4 percent gain in its fourth quarter profit, while Target reported a 21 percent jump in earnings on robust business at its flagship discount chain.

Wal-Mart said its earnings rose to $2.72 billion, or 63 cents a share, for the three months ended Jan. 31, up from $2.51 billion, or 57 cents a share, a year ago. Its revenue rose more than 12 percent to $75.2 billion from $66.9 billion a year ago. Sales in its U.S. stores open at least a year were up 4.8 percent.

"As we went through November and December it was a very challenging pre-Christmas environment," said Lee Scott, Wal-Mart's president and c.e.o. "(But) January was an excellent month for Wal-Mart in terms of sales and profitability. And it was that excellent month that allowed us to have a successful quarter."

All segments of Wal-Mart's business, including its domestic Wal-Mart Stores, its international segment and its discount Sam's Club stores, experienced higher profits over the quarter ending in January than a year earlier.

In a recorded message on Thursday, Scott also said the national jobs situation could soon improve. "I'm encouraged about consumer spending, particularly driven by the higher tax refund and, eventually, from improvements in the job picture," he said.

Separately, Minneapolis-based Target said its profits surged in the fourth quarter, as a robust performance at its discount store offset continued sluggish results at its Marshall Field's and Mervyn's stores.

Target said Thursday it earned $832 million, or 91 cents per share, for the three months ended Jan. 31, up from $688 million, or 75 cents per share, in the same quarter a year earlier.

Revenue increased 10.7 percent to $15.57 billion for the quarter from $14.06 billion in the year-ago period. Same-store sales for the quarter increased 4.9 percent.

"We are pleased with our overall financial results for 2003," said Bob Ulrich, company chairman and chief executive. "As expected, we delivered much stronger growth in the fourth quarter than in our first nine months. In 2004 and beyond, our efforts will remain intently focused on strengthening our offering to our guests, achieving profitable market share growth and creating substantial value for our shareholders."

Target's namesake upscale discount stores continue to be the biggest contributor to the business, with revenue up 12.6 percent to $13.43 billion. Same-store sales rose 6.1 percent.
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