Nordstrom Inc., in a sign that cost-containment measures are working, reports fourth-quarter earnings jumped more than 47 percent to $46.2 million, or 57 cents a share, even though sales increased only 5.2 percent to $902.2 million.

During the same period in fiscal 1989, the upscale retail chain reported earnings of $31.4 million, or 39 cents a share, on sales of $857.4 million.The year-earlier fourth-quarter results, however, were reduced by a charge of 11 cents a share for wage claims of employees who said they performed duties for Nordstrom "off the clock."

The latest quarterly figures differed dramatically from the results for fiscal 1990, which ended Jan. 31. Nordstrom reported earnings of $115.8 million, or $1.42 a share, a year-to-year increase of less than 1 percent from the $114.9 million, or $1.41 a share, in fiscal 1989.

Sales for the year increased 8.3 percent to $2.89 billion, up from $2.67 billion.

"The results for the fourth quarter indicate that the company has responded in a positive manner to the difficult retailing environment that exists today," said Bruce A. Nordstrom, co-chairman. "The efforts of employees throughout the company in response to these conditions are gratifying."

The company implemented an aggressive cost-containment program last year in response to signs of the weakening economy.

At the same time it was preparing for the looming recession, Nord-strom also set aside about $15 million to deal with the worker wage claims. The claims stemmed from a campaign by the United Food and Commercial Workers Union to force the company to compensate current and former employees for unpaid work.