NEW YORK -- Boosted by higher margins, primarily from lower markdowns, Ann Taylor Stores Corp. reported earnings before special items shot up nearly fivefold in the fourth quarter and nearly doubled in the full year.

In the quarter ended Jan. 29, earnings before special items rose to $4.2 million, or 19 cents a share, from $866,000, or 4 cents, a year ago.

After a charge of $1.1 million after-tax to relocate its distribution center from New Haven, Conn., to Louisville, Ky., and a $625,000 after-tax charge for the early retirement of debt, earnings in the latest quarter came to $2.5 million, or 11 cents a share.

The relocation charge includes severance, job retraining, relocation costs for New Haven workers and the writeoff of assets at the New Haven unit. During 1994, the firm purchased $10 million of its 8 3/4 percent notes in the open market.

In the year-ago quarter, Ann Taylor showed a loss of $1.1 million after a pretax charge of $3.4 million from a stockholder litigation settlement.

Sales in the quarter increased 6.9 percent to $134.6 million from $125.9 million, while same-store sales dipped 0.6 percent.

For the year, earnings before extraordinary items rose to $15.6 million, or 71 cents a share, from $8.3 million, or 39 cents, a year earlier. After charges, earnings in the year came to $3.2 million, or 15 cents. A year earlier, Ann Taylor earned $5.9 million, or 28 cents, after the litigation charge. Sales rose 9 percent to $501.6 million from $460.2 million. Same-store sales rose 4 percent.

Ann Taylor added that on Jan. 27 it received a new $40 million credit line secured by credit card receivables.

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