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Record Profit for Family Dollar

The retailer credits its aggressive store expansion program.

Family Dollar Stores

(FDO)

reported record first-quarter earnings Thursday that matched analysts' estimates, driven by its store expansion program, but the company's shares still fell.

The company, however, lowered its sales estimates for December, saying sales have been below plan. Family Dollar joins the ranks of

Wal-Mart

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and

Target

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, which also said December sales were weaker than anticipated.

In the quarter ended Nov. 29, net earnings were $64.5 million, or 37 cents a share, from $57.5 million, or 33 cents a share, a year earlier. Total sales jumped 12.3% to $1.24 billion. The company opened 101 new stores during the quarter, while closing 26.

The Matthews, N.C.-based company said existing-store sales rose 2.6% in the quarter. Additionally, customer count, which is measured by the number of register transactions in existing stores, increased 2.3%, while the average transaction increased 0.2%.

Sales of apparel were helped by unseasonably cool weather in September, but hurt by unusually warm weather in October and November.

For December, Family Dollar now expects same-store sales to be flat to 2% higher, from a previous expectation of 2% to 4% growth. The company said its low-to middle-income customers usually buy trim-a-tree, giftware and other seasonal merchandise late in the holiday season, making it hard to estimate sales.

In both January and February 2004, the company sees same-store sales in the positive 3% to 5% range. Family Dollar said that second-quarter EPS would increase 10% to 12% over the prior year if same-store sales in the quarter increase 2% to 3%.

For the second half of fiscal year 2004 ending Aug. 28, Family Dollar reiterated that it sees EPS up 14% to 16%, on the basis of a same-store sales increase of 3% to 5%. Originally, the company had expected an increase of 4% to 6% range.

Shares of the company lost 29 cents. Or 0.8%, to $34.16 on the

New York Stock Exchange

.