Staples’ 4Q Profit Dips

Framingham, Mass. Staples Inc. said Tuesday that its quarterly profit was flat as international sales helped offset a slowdown in North American sales.

The office-supplies retailer reported fourth-quarter earnings of $333 million for the period ending Feb. 2, 2008, compared to $336.5 million a year ago.

The company’s quarterly sales rose to $5.32 billion from $5.29 billion. This increase was helped by a favorable currency translation from its overseas operations. However, sales at North American retail stores fell 4%.

Staples blames the decline on slowing job growth, the distressed U.S. housing sector, and credit-market jitters that have led small businesses to cut spending. Despite the slowdown, the company is sticking with plans to add 100 stores this year, compared with 120 last year, including 11 in Staples' newest market, Denver.

During a conference call with analysts, Staples executives declined to take questions on whether the company might increase its $3.67 billion bid to acquire Netherlands-based Corporate Express NV, which swiftly rejected Staples' unsolicited offer as too low on Feb. 19. However, some analysts expect an eventual agreement. The acquisition would expand Staples' profitable segments serving business customers and overseas clientele after recent slow sales at U.S. stores.

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