Sprint Corp. eked out a profit of $37 million in the fourth quarter, a marked improvement from a loss of $1.24 million in the same period a year earlier.

The company's revenue for the period was $6.53 billion, about the same as in the previous year's fourth quarter.

For 2002, Sprint reported a profit of $623 million ($1.36 per share), compared with a loss of $1.4 billion (16 cents) a year earlier. Revenue for 2002 was $26.6 billion, up 4.4 percent from the previous year.

The company was able to swing to a profit for the year largely through cost cutting and the sale of assets, including its telephone-directory business, from which it realized a $2.1 billion after-tax gain.

Sprint officials declined to comment yesterday on a Wall Street Journal report that longtime chief executive William T. Esrey and president and chief operating officer Ronald T. LeMay were asked to resign after the Internal Revenue Service challenged their use of a shelter that allowed them to defer tax payments on gains from the sale of company stock.

Sprint did not discuss the reason's for Esrey's or LeMay's resignations when they were announced last week.

Esrey's resignation had been expected since November, when the company said he had been diagnosed with cancer. But LeMay was widely assumed to be Esrey's heir apparent until last week.

Shares of Sprint's FON stock, which tracks its wired telephone business, rose 16 cents, or 1.3 percent, to close at $12.52. Shares of Sprint PCS, which tracks the value of its mobile phone business, rose 31 cents, or 8.4 percent, to close at $4.

Analysts had feared that the two executives were leaving the company because of disappointing financial results. But yesterday's report by the company on its performance for the fourth quarter and the full year was roughly in line with expectations.

The larger concern is that the company is now suffering from a leadership vacuum. "My only concern is that they are without a leader. Who is running the place?" asked Zach Wagner, an analyst for Edward Jones.

In conference calls yesterday, Sprint executives, including Esrey, focused on the company's profit of 28 cents per share for the three months ended Dec. 31.

Also yesterday, a judge in Atlanta held a hearing but announced no decision on a lawsuit filed by BellSouth Corp. seeking to block Sprint from hiring away its vice chairman, Gary D. Forsee. Forsee spent 10 years at Sprint before joining BellSouth.