Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation's largest retailer, reported Tuesday a 18 percent gain in fourth-quarter earnings, boosted by strong results in its discount stores division.

The Home Depot said its fourth-quarter earnings rose 22 percent from a year ago, helped by overall strength in the home improvement industry.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based retailer earned $1.29 billion, or 57 cents per diluted share, in the fourth quarter, compared with $1.095 billion, or 48 cents per diluted shared, in the same period a year ago.

Sales were $35.7 billion, up from $31.26 billion a year ago.

Its Wal-Mart unit, which includes its Supercenters, saw a 14 percent gain in operating profits in the fourth quarter, while profits at its Sam's Clubs were up 12 percent.

Profits at its international segment more than doubled from a year ago.

For the year, Wal-Mart earned $3.53 billion, or $1.56 per diluted share, compared with $3.056 billion, or $1.33 per diluted share. Salles for the year were $118 billion, an increase of 12 percent from a year ago.

As of Jan. 31, the company had 1,921 Wal-Mart stores, 441 Supercenters, and 443 Sam's Clubs in the United States. Internationally, Wal-Mart operates nearly 600 stores.

Wal-Mart's results beat Wall Street analysts' estimates. It stock rose up 68.8 cents at $47.875 in trading on the New York Stock Exchange.

The Home Depot

The home improvement retailers earned $307 million, or 41 cents per share on a diluted basis, in the fourth quarter, compared with $251 million, or 34 cents a share on a diluted basis, a year ago.

Sales were $5.73 billion, up from $4.96 billion last year.

Home Depot chief executive Arthur Blank attributed the increase to the customer service provided by Home Depot employees and ``a robust industry environment.''

For the year, Home Depot earned $1.16 billion, or $1.55 per share on a diluted basis, compared with $938 million, or $1.29 per share on a diluted basis, a year ago. Sales were $24.2 billion, up from $19.56 billion.

The 1997 results include a charge of $104 million for settlement of lawsuits.

At the end of fiscal 1997, the Company operated a total of 624 stores, including 587 Home Depot stores and 5 EXPO Design Centers in the United States, and 32 Home Depot stores in Canada.

Home Depot's results met Wall Street analysts' estimates, but its stock fell $3.438 at $65.125 in trading on the NYSE.