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Staples Inc. (SPLS-Q), the largest U.S. office supply chain, reported a quarterly profit that narrowly beat analysts' estimates, helped by a slight increase in customer traffic at its North American business.
Smaller rivals Office Depot Inc. (ODP-N) and OfficeMax Inc. (OMX-N) also reported better-than-expected earnings in the fourth quarter, raising hopes that the office supply sector was stabilizing after years of sales declines.
Staples however expects a slow growth in the U.S. economy and a soft demand environment in Europe in 2012. It expects full-year sales to increase in the low single-digits and full-year diluted earnings per share to increase in the high single-digits.
Net income for the fourth-quarter rose to $283.6 million US, or 41 cents a share, from $274.7 million, or 38 cents a share, a year ago.
Analysts, on average, were expecting a profit of 40 cents a share, before items, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
Sales rose to $6.46 billion, while analysts expected about $6.45 billion.
Sales at its North American delivery segment and domestic retail segment, which together account for about 80 percent of the company's revenue, rose 2 percent to $5.16 billion.