NEW YORK — A “challenging” fiscal year and a discontinued operation took a heavy toll on Claire’s Stores Inc.’s earnings despite relatively stable sales.

The company reported a 48.8 percent dive in fourth-quarter net income to $15.4 million, or 61 cents a diluted share, compared with $30 million, or 62 cents, in the year-ago period. For the three months ended Feb. 2, net sales slipped 5.2 percent, to $280.4 million from $295.7 million last year. Comparable-store sales dropped 2 percent in the quarter.

The Pembroke Pines, Fla.-based teen and preteen mall retailer took an after-tax loss of approximately $14 million, or 30 cents a diluted share, from the discontinuation of Lux Corp., which did business under the Mr. Rags nameplate.

“Fiscal 2002 was a challenging year, but we’re pleased that our fourth-quarter results from continuing operations exceeded our previous guidance,” said chief executive officer Rowland Schaefer in a statement. “We were very successful in managing our inventory levels during the fourth quarter which resulted in considerably fewer markdowns than the previous year.”

Overall in fiscal 2001, Claire’s Stores reported a 69.9 percent drop in net income to $19.6 million, or 84 cents a diluted share, from $65 million, or $1.35, in fiscal 2000. However, a net loss of $21.5 million, or 44 cents, related to shedding Lux Corp., contributed to the decline.

Sales for the year shrunk 3 percent, to $918.7 million from $946.7 million last year. As with the quarter, same-store sales were down 2 percent.

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