Staples

(SPLS)

, the world's largest office products retailer, said fourth-quarter net income fell 14% to $286 million, or 40 cents a share, from $333.2 million, or 47 cents a share, a year earlier as the company completed what it called the "most challenging" year in its history.

Total sales in the fourth quarter rose 16% to $6.2 billion from $5.3 billion a year earlier.

Excluding the impact of Corporate Express, which was acquired in 2008, total company sales for the fourth quarter fell 14% to $4.6 billion, or 10% in local currency.

Adjusted fourth-quarter earnings, which exclude charges related to the acquisition of Corporate Express, were $256 million, or 36 cents a share. Staples also reversed a $57 million non-cash charge it recorded in the third quarter.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters predicted a profit of 42 cents a share on fourth-quarter revenue of $6.82 billion.

Staples said it expects the weak economic climate to continue throughout 2009. Because of limited near-term visibility, the company isn't providing sales or earnings guidance.