By  on February 20, 2002

NEW YORK -- Wal-Mart Stores' sporty British import, George, is completing its conquest of the U.S. by rolling out to another 1,000 Wal-Mart women's departments this month.

The apparel line, which has been shining in the U.K., made its women's wear debut in 1,600 U.S. doors last fall. Men's apparel and shoes under the label will be tested in 500 to 700 domestic locations.

The company also reported solid fourth-quarter results with deficiencies that many other retailers would envy.

A few percentage points short of its stated goal to increase earnings at the same double-digit clip as sales, Wal-Mart eked-out a 9.2 percent bottom-line gain, weighing in finally with profits of $2.19 billion, or 49 cent a share, in the fourth quarter. This was in line with estimates and compared to earnings of $2 billion, or 45 cents, a year ago.

These earnings were carved out of a 13.5 percent sales gain to $64.21 billion for the period ended Jan. 31. Year-ago fourth-quarter sales totaled $56.56 billion.

"Although we did not attain our goal of increasing earnings at the same rate as sales," explained president and chief executive Lee Scott in a statement, the growth in earnings per share "represents more than triple the growth rate experienced in the first six months of the year."

He allowed that it had been, "a good ending to a difficult year."

Wall Street was lukewarm on the results and pushed shares of the firm down 74 cents, or 1.2 percent, to close at $59.29 on the New York Stock Exchange Tuesday.

This was in line with the Dow Jones Industrial Average's decline of 157.90, or 1.6 percent, to close at 9745.14 and the S&P Retail Index drop of 12.58, or 1.3 percent, to 928.38.

On a recorded call, Jay Fitzsimmons, senior vice president of finance and treasurer, said of the U.K., "The performance of Asda's George clothing line has been especially strong with comparable-store sales in the mid-teens for the year, reflecting the Essentially George opening price point product which now accounts for 30 percent of the line." George is now the third-largest clothing brand in the U.K., said the treasurer.

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