Target Corp., the No. 3 U.S. discount chain, on Thursday said its fiscal fourth-quarter profits will handily beat Wall Street forecasts. It also reported a 5.8 percent increase in January sales at stores open at least a year.

Target said it expects fourth-quarter earnings of at least 72 cents a share. That compares analysts' consensus estimate of 67 cents as compiled by Thomson Financial/First Call. The company earned 61 cents a share in the year-ago fourth quarter.

"Sales for the corporation were above plan in January, reflecting continuing strength at Target stores," Bob Ulrich, chairman and chief executive, said in a statement.

Net retail sales for the four weeks ended Feb. 2 declined 9 percent, to $2.542 billion from $2.794 billion for the five weeks ended Feb. 3, 2001. Excluding the extra week in last year's results, total sales increased 13.5 percent and comparable-store sales rose 5.8 percent.

For January, the company's Target discount stores division showed a 7.6 percent increase in same-store sales. Its Mervyn's department stores division posted a 3.3 percent fall, and its Marshall Field's department stores posted a 4.7 percent drop.