FAIRFIELD, Ohio -- Profits at Mercantile Stores Co. rose 2.1 percent in the fourth quarter ended Jan. 29, to $56 million, or $1.52 a share, from $54.8 million, or $1.49, a year ago.

Sales dipped 0.8 percent to $888.1 million, with same-store sales off 3.6 percent.

David L. Nichols, chairman and chief executive officer, said earnings were "somewhat below expectations," but benefited from improved cost and inventory controls.

In the year, earnings were $89.7 millon, $2.44 a share, against $69.1 million, or $1.88, which included $27.7 million in one-time charges.

Sales were flat at $2.73 billion, and same-store sales slid 1.9 percent.

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