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NATION



Published: Fri, February 4, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



NATION

Retail sales beat forecasts

NEW YORK -- Consumers lured by clearance sales and a fresh assortment of spring apparel gave many of the nation's retailers solid January sales despite late-month snowstorms in the Midwest and Northeast.

As merchants released their results Thursday, a diverse group of retailers had sales that beat Wall Street expectations, including clothing stores Abercrombie & amp; Fitch and Talbots Inc., department store chain J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and discounter Target Corp. Luxury stores such as Neiman Marcus Group Inc. again reported sales that surpassed Wall Street estimates.

The month provided some encouraging trends -- stores including Penney, Talbots and Gap Inc. reported strong sales of regular-priced spring merchandise, indicating consumers are feeling better about spending.

There were some disappointments during January, including an overall sales decline at Gap Inc. and a drop at May Department Stores Co. But generally, it was a good month.

Man indicted in scheme

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Former HealthSouth Corp. president and director James P. Bennett was indicted Thursday in what prosecutors say was a massive fraud at the rehabilitation giant, even as the trial of former CEO Richard Scrushy continued.

Bennett, 47, was accused of fraud, conspiracy, insider trading, money laundering and lying to the FBI in a scheme in which he sold company stock worth about $17.4 million, according to a statement from prosecutors.

Testimony in Scrushy's trial has indicated that Bennett knew of the scam, in which 18 people have now been charged. Fifteen have reached plea deals and are expected to testify in Scrushy's trial.

Besides prison time and $33 million in fines, if convicted on all 39 counts, prosecutors are seeking $28 million in assets that they claim Bennett made from the alleged conspiracy.

Whirlpool earnings down

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Higher material and transportation costs offset increased sales as Whirlpool Corp. reported a nearly 22 percent drop in fourth-quarter earnings. The appliance maker's shares tumbled nearly 5 percent Thursday.

For the three-month period ending Dec. 31, the company earned $97 million, or $1.44 per share, compared with $124 million, or $1.76 per share, for the fourth quarter of 2003.

Vindicator wire services




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