Barnes & Noble Inc , the No 1 U.S. traditional bookseller, posted better-than-expected quarterly profit on Thursday as it cut expenses and its shares rose 2 percent.

Net profit in the fourth quarter that ended January 31 was $81.2 million, or $1.46 per share, compared with $115 million, or $1.79 per share, a year earlier.

Excluding a charge of 4 cents a share tied to severance and one for 17 cents a share tied to a discontinued operation, profit was $1.67 a share, compared with $1.48 a share expected by analysts, according to Reuters Estimates.

Total sales fell 6 percent in the quarter to $1.63 billion. Sales at stores open at least a year fell 7.3 percent for the brick-and-mortar stores and were down 10.4 percent at Barnes &

Shoppers have been paring back on nonessential items, including books, in the downturn while online competition has pressured sales at traditional book stores.

Barnes & Noble has been cutting expenses in the challenging environment, and said it expects 2009 expenses to be flat with 2008 as a percentage of sales. In January, the company said it would cut nearly 100 jobs at its corporate headquarters in New York.

Analysts have said Barnes & Noble, which operates about 800 book stores in the United States, has been able to take market share from rival Borders Group Inc which has been dogged by liquidity issues over the past year and recent management turnover.

Barnes & Noble expects a loss of 10 cents to 20 cents a share for the current first quarter and a profit of 95 cents to $1.25 a share for the full year.

Analysts expected a loss of 17 cents a share for the first quarter and profit of $1.11 a share for the year, according to Reuters Estimates.

Barnes & Noble shares were up 95 cents to $21.96 in morning New York Stock Exchange trading, while Borders fell 1 cent to 57 cents.

(Reporting by Karen Jacobs and Alexandria Sage; Editing by Derek Caney)