Best Buy's

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fourth-quarter earnings jumped 22% from a year ago, boosted by a 9.2% rise in sales, a gain from the sale of discontinued operations and a sharply lower tax rate.

The electronics retailer earned $572 million, or $1.69 a share, in the quarter, up from $469 million, or $1.40 a share, a year ago. Overall revenue was $9.23 billion in the quarter ended Feb. 26, 2005, compared with $8.45 billion a year ago. Same-store sales rose 2.8% in the quarter from a year ago.

Backing out discontinued operations and several one-time items, Best Buy earned $522 million, or $1.55 a share, in the quarter, matching the Thomson First Call consensus estimate.

Best Buy's guidance was convoluted by the company's plans to expense stock options, a development that doesn't appear to be anticipated in Wall Street estimates. For the first quarter, the company expects to earn 27 cents to 32 cents a share from continuing operations including a nickel of per-share stock expense. Backing that out, the range is 32 cents to 37 cents. Analysts wanted 38 cents a share.

For the full year ending February 2006, Best Buy sees earnings of $2.95 to $3.10 a share from continuing operations, including a per-share options expense and other charges totaling 23 cents a share. Backing that out, the range is $3.18 to $3.33 a share. Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call were forecasting $3.31 a share.

In the just-completed fourth quarter, Best Buy's gross profit margin was 23.5%, down from 24.2% a year ago, hurt by a revenue mix that favored lower-margin products like MP3 players, DVD movies and notebook computers.

"Seasonal promotional activity, as well as the impact of product model transitions, also contributed to the rate decline, which was partially offset by improvements associated with significant growth in the company's higher-margin computer services business and increases in global sourcing volumes," the company said.

The quarter's bottom line was helped by a reduced income tax expense of $255 million, compared with $291 million a year ago. The effective tax rate was 32.8% in the 2005 quarter, compared with 38.3% a year ago.