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fourth-quarter earnings slid sharply from a gain-swollen year-ago period, but the company easily beat Wall Street estimates and said its merger with



remains on track.

The department-store chain earned $378 million, or $1.76 a share, in the quarter, compared with earnings of $2.7 billion, or $10.84 a share, last year. The year-ago period had a $4.1 billion gain from the sale of the company's credit card operation as well as the operations' results. Revenue was $11.2 billion in the latest quarter compared with $12.3 billion last year.

Analysts had been forecasting earnings of $1.66 a share on sales of $11.5 billion in the most recent quarter. The stock closed Wednesday at $49.90.

"Fourth-quarter earnings and revenue met our expectations, with control of costs and expenses offsetting margin pressure," Sears said in a statement. "Domestic comparable-store sales were flat during the fourth quarter, with sales increases in October and November offset by a decline in December.

Sears said its domestic operations posted an operating profit of $471 million in the fourth quarter, compared with operating income of $49 million a year ago. The year-ago period reflected a $649 million loss from the divested credit card operations.

"The year was marked by further restructuring and repositioning of our core retail business, which slowed short-term results, but positions us well for the future," Sears said.

Sears announced in November that it agreed to be acquired by Kmart. In its release Thursday, the company reiterated that the transaction is scheduled to close in early March, pending shareholder and regulatory approval.