Big Lots (BIG) revealed a 20% increase in fourth-quarter profit on stronger comp-store sales in the U.S., however the closeout retailer's shares slipped on a disappointing first-quarter forecast.

Big Lots is forecasting earnings growth of 7% to 16% in the range of 75 cents to 81 cents a share for the current quarter, with U.S. profit climbing 21% to 29%. However that is below Wall Street’s view of 81 cents.

The company, which sells items that have been overproduced, discontinued or rejected by other retailers at a sharp discount, reported net income of $114.7 million, or $1.75 a share, in the fourth quarter, compared with a year-earlier $110.1 million, or $1.46.

Excluding one-time items, the company earned $1.83 a share, ahead of average analyst estimates of $1.73 in a Thomson Reuters poll.

Revenue for the three months ended Jan. 28 was $1.67 billion, up from $1.52 billion a year ago, just beating the Street’s view of $1.66 billion. Comparable sales, or those at stores open at least two years, were up 3.4% in the U.S.

In a statement, Big Lots CEO Steve Fishman attributed the gains to aggressive initiatives in certain key merchandise categories that helped accelerate sales trends as the year progressed.

“We successfully opened 92 new stores in the U.S. and expanded our footprint into Canada with the acquisition of Liquidation World,” he said.  

Looking deeper into 2012, Big Lots sees non-GAAP earnings in the range of $3.40 to $3.50 a share, which would be an increase of 14% to 17% from 2011. Analysts on average are looking for a profit of $3.46 a share.

Comparable sales are projected to rise 2% to 3% and the company plans to open another 90 new stores in the U.S. Strong gains in the U.S. are expected to be slightly offset by a narrow loss in Canada.

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