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Best Buy breezes past estimates

The consumer electronics chain easily topped analyst forecasts for its fiscal fourth quarter, fueled by sales of digital goods.

Consumer electronics chain Best Buy easily topped analyst forecasts for its fiscal fourth quarter, fueled by sales of digital goods.

On Tuesday, the company posted a profit of $189.7 million, or 89 cents per diluted share, on total sales of $5.46 billion. That compares with a profit of $163.8 million, or 78 cents per share, in the same period a year earlier.

A consensus of analysts were expecting a profit of 82 cents per share on sales of $5.45 billion, according to First Call. The quarter ended March 3.

For its fiscal year, Best Buy recorded a profit of $395.8 million, or $1.86 per diluted share, on sales of $15.33 billion. That compares with analyst predictions of $1.79 per share and revenue of $1.47 billion.

The quarterly and annual figures include a dilution of 4 cents per share related to its fourth-quarter acquisition of Musicland Stores.

By contrast, rival Circuit City reported Monday that fiscal fourth-quarter profit fell 37 percent.

Best Buy also said that business looks good in its new fiscal year.

"We expect comparable store sales at Best Buy stores to increase modestly in the coming fiscal year, notwithstanding the fact that consumer sentiment is expected to remain soft, particularly in the second half," CEO Richard Schulze said in a statement.

Schulze said the company expects annual earnings to grow 16 percent to 18 percent this fiscal year.

Schulze said sales of digital products accounted for 15 percent of total sales, up from 10 percent in the prior year.

"Consumers continue to embrace digital products, including DVD, camcorders and televisions," he said.

In particular, sales of digital televisions have taken off. Schulze said digital televisions represented 10 percent of all television sales at the chain. Digital TVs had an average selling price of around $2,000, but Schulze said that figure could come down by the end of the year, driving even more sales. By late 2002, the company expects digital televisions to represent 18 percent to 19 percent of television sales.

As for the traditional PC market, business isn't looking as good. Schulze said the segment is soft and noted that "this is the most competitive and lowest-growing category that we sell."

The company opened 62 new stores during the fiscal year and relocated or expanded 10 stores.

"We're finding consumers have continued to show interest in higher-end, more fully featured products," Chief Financial Officer Darren Jackson said, adding that the company's product mix shifted toward higher margin consumer electronics from the lower-margin home-office category.