Target

(TGT) - Get Report

reported a 50% jump in third-quarter earnings per share Thursday, as strength at its discount stores made up for declining sales at its Marshall Field's and Mervyn's department stores.

The No. 3 U.S. retailer posted a quarterly profit of 30 cents a share on sales of $10.2 billion. Last year, Target earned just 20 cents a share on sales of $9.3 billion. Analysts had forecast a profit of 28 cents per share, according to Thomson Financial/First Call.

CEO Bob Ulrich said earnings growth would be "modest" in the fourth quarter because the company faces difficult comparisons. But he added that profit growth should be "strong" for 2002 overall and said he expects Target to generate average annual earnings per share growth of 15% or more "over time."

Analysts had expected a fourth-quarter profit of 76 cents a share, and full-year earnings of $1.80. The firm earned 73 cents a share in the fourth quarter last year.

Sales at Target's discount stores rose almost 12% during the third quarter but were down 3% at Marshall Field's stores and down 4.4% at Mervyn's. Still, pretax profit was higher at all three units.

"We are pleased with our third quarter results, which reflected growth in pretax profit at all three divisions -- especially given our relatively soft sales performance during the quarter," said Ulrich.

Pretax profit rose 21% at Target, 10% at Mervyn's and 8% at Marshall Field's.

Target's credit card operations added $138 million to third-quarter profits, compared to $125 million a year ago. But credit card receivables grew to $5.2 billion from $2.9 billion last year, due to the continued growth in usage of its Target Visa card.

Same-store sales were up 0.1% overall.