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Office Depot

(ODP) - Get ODP Corporation Report

posted higher earnings and sales in the fourth quarter, but said the weak economy would hold down earnings growth in 2003.

Delray Beach, Fla.,-based Office Depot earned $62.9 million, or 20 cents a share, on $2.84 billion in sales in the fourth quarter, compared with $40.3 million, or 13 cents a share, on sales of $2.78 billion. The latest quarter included some items; before them the company made 23 cents a share, about a penny better than forecasts.

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The company said worldwide same-store sales were flat, but they fell 4% in North America. Overall North American sales fell 3%. The company blamed a weak holiday shopping season and poor sales of furniture and technology. The company said traffic fell slightly, and the average transaction size was down 1% year-over-year. Desktop and laptop sales were down 17% during the fourth quarter while overall technology hardware was down 10% for the period.

As for 2003, the company says it sees few "encouraging signs that we can expect a significant improvement in the overall economic environment during the first half of the year." As a result it expects full-year EPS growth of 5%-10% over 2002's 98 cents a share.

"We are planning for improvement in North American retail comps in 2003, with the second half stronger than the first half. Given current sales trends, we now expect North American retail comps to remain negative in the first half of the year but to turn flattish to slightly positive in the third and fourth quarters."