updated 12/15/2004 10:01:56 AM ET 2004-12-15T15:01:56

Best Buy Company Inc., the nation's largest electronics retailer, said on Wednesday that third-quarter earnings rose 21 percent, but gave hints that profits during the holiday selling season may not be quite what analysts were hoping for.

For the three months ended Nov. 27 — just before the holiday shopping season began — the company earned $148 million, or 45 cents per share, up from $122 million, or 37 cents per share, a year ago. The latest quarter's earnings were a penny a share higher than the consensus forecast of analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call.

Revenue of $6.65 billion matched Best Buy's prediction earlier this month, but fell just shy of the $6.67 billion predicted by analysts. Its revenue was up from $6.03 billion a year ago.

But the company said fourth-quarter earnings will be at the low end of analyst estimates, and chief financial officer Darren Jackson said the quarter is shaping up to be "more promotional" than last year — an indication that more discounts than usual may be needed to move merchandise.

Offsetting that is the fact that the company is "a leaner organization than we were last year," he said.

Best Buy predicted fourth-quarter earnings of $1.56 to $1.66 per share, which would be a 13 percent increase over the previous year. The consensus forecast of 28 analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call was for earnings of $1.62 per share for the quarter. The range of estimates was from a low of $1.52 a share to a high of $1.65 a share,

For all of fiscal 2005, the company predicted earnings of $2.87 to $2.97 per share, before taking a 7-cent charge for litigation and asset impairments. Analysts are expecting $2.94 per share, also before the charge.

The company said its "customer centricity" effort to focus on profitable customers is bearing fruit. Best Buy said it has converted 67 stores to focus on certain customer segments, and that comparable-store sales gains at those stores was more than double the gains at other Best Buy stores.

"Our commitment to this initiative — and our excitement about the outcomes — has never been greater," chief executive Brad Anderson said.

For the first three quarters of this year, Best Buy earned $412 million, or $1.24 per share, on sales of $18.2 billion. A year ago the company earned $236 million, or 72 cents per share, on sales of $16.1 billion.

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