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Pier 1 First-Quarter Profits Rise

But March same-store sales were weak.

Pier 1 Imports

(PIR) - Get Report

posted a 10% rise in fourth-quarter profit, matching analysts' expectations on improving profit margins.

The home furnisher said, however, that March same-store sales were weaker than expected. But the company forecast first-quarter and full-year 2004 earnings within analysts' range.

In the quarter ended March 1, the company earned $54 million, or 57 cents a share, in line with analyst estimates, and up from $49 million, or 51 cents a share, in the year-ago period. The company said gross profit increased by 40 basis points during the quarter.

Total sales were up 8.9% to $521 million, from $479 million last year. Same-store sales for the quarter were up 0.9%.

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Sales at stores open at least a year during the month of March fell 5.8%, however, the company said. It had originally forecast same-store sales to be flat to down 4%.

"As the war with Iraq commenced, traffic and conversion rates declined in March and customers postponed purchases," said Marvin J. Girouard, chief executive of Pier 1. "Average ticket increased in March compared to the year-ago period, and regional sales were stronger in areas of the country that experienced mild or warm weather. Inventories are at, or slightly below, plan, which serves us well during this time of continued uncertainty."

Looking to the first quarter of 2004, Pier 1 expects to earn 16 cents to 22 cents a share, in line with analysts' consensus estimate of 19 cents a share. For the year, the company expects EPS of $1.44 to $1.50; analysts expect $1.44, on average. The company earned 23 cents a share in the first quarter of 2003 and $1.36 a share for the year.

Shares of Fort Worth, Texas-based Pier 1 closed at $16 Wednesday on the

New York Stock Exchange

.