Albertsons' ( ABS) fourth-quarter earnings fell 16% from a year ago, as sales dipped and the supermarket chain took a charge to cover an accounting change. Albertsons earned $162 million, or 43 cents a share, in the quarter, compared with $194 million, or 52 cents a share, a year ago. Excluding special items, earnings from continuing operations were $200 million, or 54 cents a share. Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call were forecasting earnings of 44 cents a share. The latest quarter included a $23 million after-tax charge related to a change in the way the company accounts for early payment discounts. This change will have no impact on previous or future cash flows or the amount the company pays for its merchandise. Sales in the latest quarter were $10.23 billion, down from $11.06 billion a year ago. The decline reflected one fewer week in the most recent quarter plus a 0.3% dip in same-store sales. Analysts were forecasting sales of $10.49 billion in the latest period. Albertsons said its gross margin in the quarter increased 10 basis points from a year ago to 27.92%, mainly because of "improvements in the grocery and pharmacy departments and shrink reduction vs. the prior year's fourth quarter." The increase was substantially offset by the charge for the accounting change.