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H&R Block, helped by growth in early tax filing, posted a third-quarter profit for the first time in the company's history, beating Wall Street estimates that saw a loss. The company reported Tuesday that income for the third quarter ending Jan. 31 was $5.6 million, or 6 cents per share, compared with a loss of $7.1 million, or 7 cents per share, in the same time a year ago. Analysts surveyed by First Call/Thomson Financial had predicted the company would lose 20 cents a share in the third quarter. The company has historically reported losses in the first three quarters and a profit in the fourth quarter because of the seasonal nature of the tax business. Mark A. Ernst, president and chief executive officer, said an increase in the number of tax filings in late January, rather than in early February, contributed to the good financial news. Revenue for the quarter increased 29 percent to $661.4 million, compared with $512.5 million the same time a year ago.

Intimate Brands's profits declined by 20 percent in the fourth quarter, in line with analysts' lowered expectations, and the apparel, beauty and personal care products retailer warned of "challenging" quarters ahead. For the quarter ended Feb. 3, the company posted a net profit of $221.6 million, or 45 cents per share, down from $278.9 million, or 55 cents per share, in the year-ago quarter. Sales rose to $1.94 billion from $1.84 billion in the last quarter of 2000. Excluding one-time items, the company earned 46 cents a share, in line with estimates by analysts surveyed by First Call/Thomson Financial that were reduced from 59 cents after the company warned of a profit shortfall in January. Company Chairman Leslie H. Wexner said Intimate's fourth-quarter earnings were a "major disappointment" and warned of tough times ahead. Intimate Brands operates more than 2,300 stores under the names Victoria's Secret, Bath & Body Works and White Barn Candle Co. For the fiscal year, Intimate's profits fell 5.7 percent to $432 million, or 87 cents per share, from $458 million, or 90 cents per share, the previous year. Sales were $5.1 billion, compared with $4.6 billion last year.

Federated Department Stores, struggling with losses at its Fingerhut electronic retailing division, saw its profits decline 26 percent in the fourth quarter, but results still beat Wall Street expectations. The Cincinnati-based retailer, which operates stores including Macy's and Bloomingdale's, reported Tuesday that it earned $332 million, or $1.65 per share in the three months ended Feb. 3, after one-time charges. That compared with $448 million, or $2.04 per share, in the year-ago period. Excluding one-time charges, the company's profits were $2.15 per share. The charges included $71 million resulting in the write-down of certain Fingerhut Internet-related and other venture capital investments; $42 million in severance costs, facility closing costs and asset write-downs related to the downsizing of Fingerhut operations; and $54 million in write-down costs tied to the closing of its Sterns division. Analysts polled by First Call/Thomson Financial estimated that the retailer would earn $2.10 per share. Federated's revenue increased 2.1 percent to $6.1 billion, from $5.97 billion in the year-ago period. For the fiscal year, Federated lost $184 million, or 90 cents per share, compared with a $795 million profit, or $3.62 per share, the year before. Sales for the year were $18.4 billion, compared to $17.7 billion a year ago.

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