H&R Block Earnings Could Beat Estimates

A combination of strong fee performance at its tax offices, cost management and solid results in its mortgage arm could lift H&R Block's ( HRB) full-year earnings above existing estimates, the company said Friday.

H&R Block expects earnings to increase more than 20% for the year ending April 30. The company said this would bring per-share net to the "high end of -- and possibly above -- its earnings-per-share guidance range." That guidance is currently for 2004 EPS of $3.65 to $3.85. Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call were forecasting earnings of $3.86.

The company cited "strong earnings from offices in former major franchise territories, solid performance in the digital tax solutions business, excellent cost management in the U.S. tax segment, and continued solid performance in the mortgage segment." It said fees from tax preparation and related services rose 4.8% to $2.2 billion.

Despite the higher earnings, the company said total clients served in the 2004 tax season fell 0.9% to 18.8 million, with clients served in all retail tax offices falling 3.1% to 15.6 million. The average fee per client rose 8.1% to $139.96.

"While our U.S. tax business showed strength in many key areas, the decline in office clients served is disappointing," the company said. "We're now engaged in an in-depth analysis of the tax season. We'll share key conclusions from this analysis when we announce our fourth quarter and year-end financial results on June 9."

Shares were recently up 27 cents, or 0.6%, to $45.22.

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