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Big retailers post profitable quarters as shoppers return

Cost-cutting and the slow return of shoppers helped retailers Sears Holdings Corp., Target Corp. and Macy’s Inc. post profitable quarters.

Sears Holdings Corp. posted its best quarterly profit in three years, helped by the return of Kmart shoppers. For the quarter, Sears Holdings earned $430 million, or $3.74 per share, for the three months ended Jan. 30, up from earnings of $190 million, or $1.55 per share, during the same period last year.

Revenue fell less than 1 percent to $13.25 billion.

Hoffman Estates, Ill.-based Sears hadn’t had such a strong quarter since the fourth quarter of 2006, when it earned $820 million.

"Our improved performance is especially encouraging given the challenging economic environment, particularly related to big-ticket items," Sears Holdings interim CEO and President W. Bruce Johnson said in a statement.

Target, meanwhile, earned $936 million, or $1.24 per share, in the quarter ended Jan. 30, a 53.7 percent increase from a year earlier.

Revenue rose 3.2 percent to $20.18 billion.

Quarterly adjusted profit for Macy’s was $1.40 per share, beating Wall Street’s $1.32-per-share estimate.

Macy’s quarterly sales fell 1 percent to $7.85 billion.


Household-project supply sales boost Home Depot earnings

Improving sales of paint, flooring and plumbing show homeowners are making a cautious return to basic do-it-yourself and home decor projects, Home Depot Inc. said Tuesday.

Cost-cutting and stronger sales drove its fiscal fourth-quarter profit higher, the largest U.S. home-improvement retailer said Tuesday.

The Atlanta-based company earned $342 million, or 20 cents per share, in the three months ended Jan. 31. Adjusted earnings were 24 cents per share, which excludes a $163 million write-down related to its HD Supply investment.

A year ago, Home Depot lost $54 million, or 3 cents per share.

Sales fell 0.3 percent to $14.57 billion.


Toyota warns recalls may not resolve acceleration problems

Massive recalls of popular Toyota cars and trucks still may "not totally" solve frightening problems of sudden, unintended acceleration, the company’s American sales chief conceded Tuesday, a day before the Japanese president of the world’s largest automaker must confront angry U.S. lawmakers.

House members listened in rapt silence Tuesday to the tearful testimony of a woman whose car unaccountably surged to 100 mph, then they pressed U.S. sales chief James Lentz on the company’s efforts to find and fix the acceleration problems — actions many suggested were too late and too limited.

Lentz apologized for safety defects that led to recalls of some 8.5 million Toyota cars and trucks, and he conceded the changes the company is making probably aren’t the end of the story.

Putting remaining doubts to rest is of vital importance to millions more Toyota owners in the United States and elsewhere, who have continued to drive but with serious concerns about their cars. Toyota sales have suffered, too, and a small army of dealers showed up on Capitol Hill Tuesday, arguing that this week’s high-profile hearings are unfairly targeting their company.


Consumer confidence comes in below Street’s expectations

Americans’ confidence in the economy has suffered a sudden relapse, dimming hopes that they will start spending — and spurring job growth — any time soon.

The Consumer Confidence Index figures released Tuesday were much worse than analysts had expected and showed that Americans are morose about the job market and their economic prospects. That bodes ill for consumer spending that normally powers economic recovery and could raise pressure on the Obama administration and Congress to create jobs themselves.

The index fell almost 11 points to 46 in February, down from a revised 56.5 in January and the lowest level since a 40.8 reading in April 2009. It erased three straight months of improvement, according to the Conference Board, the research group that releases the monthly index.

Analysts were expecting only a slight decrease to 55. Economists watch the confidence numbers closely because consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of U.S. economic activity.

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