Wal-Mart ( WMT) met analysts' consensus estimate for the fourth quarter, while total sales rose 13.5% from the same period a year earlier.

The Bentonville, Ark., retailer earned $2.19 billion, or 49 cents a share, in the quarter ended Jan. 31, up from $2 billion, or 45 cents a share, in the prior year. According to Thomson Financial/First Call, analysts were expecting earnings of 49 cents in the latest quarter.

Sales climbed to $64.21 billion from $56.56 billion. Sales at the company's Wal-Mart stores rose 15.3%, while Sam's Club sales increased 10.9%. Total company same-store sales rose 6.9% for the quarter.

"We had a good ending to a difficult year," the company said in a press release. "Thanks to our associates, we were able to increase sales and earnings while expanding market share and delivering great value to our customers. Although we did not attain our goal of increasing earnings at the same rate of sales, our 8.9% growth in earnings per share in the fourth quarter represents more than triple the growth rate experienced in the first six months of the year."

After the earnings release, the company forecast earnings of $1.74 to $1.76 a share for fiscal 2003. The company projected first-quarter earnings of 35 cents to 36 cents a share and said same-store sales would rise 5% to 7% in the quarter. Analysts expect first-quarter earnings of 35 cents and a 2003 profit of $1.74.

Wal-Mart was dropping 1.7% to $59 in Instinet trading before the opening bell.

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