Kmart Holding Corp. (KMRT) Monday said sales at stores open at least a year fell 4.6 percent in the November-December period — an improvement from declines earlier in the year.

The company said it expects net income for the two months, which encompass the key holiday selling season, to be up 10 percent to $250 million, excluding asset sales and bankruptcy expenses.

Its shares rose about 2 percent in early morning trade.

"We are pleased with the significant improvement in the rate of our same-store sales decline," Chief Executive Aylwin Lewis said in enting numerous initiatives to grow sales and increase profits in 2005."

The Troy, Mich.-based company said that because of its cash balances and cash generation, it has terminated the balance of an existing credit agreement that, except for letters of credit, has been undrawn for its entire life.

Kmart, which emerged from bankruptcy in May 2003, said it expects its cash balance to be about $3.2 billion at Jan. 26, the end of its fiscal year, up from $2.1 billion at the end of the previous fiscal year.

The discount retailer said in its statement on Monday that it expects its proposed $10.3 billion merger with Sears, Roebuck & Co. (S) to close by early March 2005. The deal, announced in November, will be the fourth-biggest retail merger ever and will create the third-biggest U.S. retailer with $55 billion in annual revenue.

Its shares, which more than tripled in value over the past year, rose to $101 on Nasdaq (search).