Jan 28, 10:02 AM EST

Fashion retailer H&M posts 12 percent rise in quarterly profit, plans 400 new stores this year

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STOCKHOLM (AP) -- Swedish fashion retailer Hennes & Mauritz says its earnings rose by 12 percent in the fourth quarter, boosted by expansion in the United States and China.

Net profit for the quarter was 6.22 billion Swedish kronor ($754 million), up from 5.55 billion kronor a year earlier. Sales increased 17 percent to 42.6 billion kronor, Stockholm-headquartered H&M said Wednesday.

The results were slightly lower than some analysts had expected and H&M's share price dropped 1.7 percent in early trading in Stockholm to 333 kronor.

The fast-expanding company opened 379 stores last year, and plans to open about 400 more this year, mostly in the U.S. and China but also in new markets including India, South Africa, Peru, Taiwan and Macau.

H&M, known for its fashionable, low-price collections for mainstream consumers, now has more than 3,500 stores worldwide, and 132,000 employees.

It's also expanding its Internet sales. Last year H&M opened its online store to customers in France, Italy, Spain and China.

"These openings, combined with further improvements in our online store, have naturally contributed to the year's good sales development," CEO Karl-Johan Persson said in a statement.

Persson said the online store will be rolled out in nine more countries in 2015: Belgium, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia and Switzerland.

Full-year profit rose 17 percent to 19.98 billion kronor.

H&M's brands also include the higher-priced COS and urban fashion labels such as Monki, Weekday and Cheap Monday.

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