Family Dollar Stores ( FDO) reported a 14% increase in third-quarter earnings, matching analysts' consensus estimate.

It also reaffirmed its fourth-quarter and full-year 2004 earnings projections.

The company earned $69.6 million, or 40 cents a share, in the quarter ended May 31, compared with $61.1 million, or 35 cents a share, in the prior-year period. Analysts were also expecting the company to earn 40 cents a share. The company cited higher same-store sales.

Sales were $1.18 billion, compared with last year's $1.02 billion, saying same-store sales rose 4.6%. The company also said sales in new stores that were opened as part of the company's store expansion program also contributed to overall sales.

In the fourth quarter ended Aug. 30, the company said its plan is for same-store sales to increase 3% to 5%. Family Dollar also confirmed that it expects earnings per share to increase by about 14% to 16%.

For 2004, the company reaffirmed that its preliminary earnings estimate is for an increase of 14% to 16%, assuming the weak retail sales environment continues. Analysts expect $1.67 a share. Also during the year, the company expects to increase its store count by a net 10%. The company now operates in 43 states and plans to open a total of 475 stores and close a total of 65 during the year ending Aug. 30.

Shares of the Matthews, N.C.-based company were recently up 26 cents to $38.06 on the New York Stock Exchange.

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