By  on February 23, 2011

Shares of Chico’s FAS Inc. rose 9 percent to $13.15 Wednesday after the women’s apparel retailer reported an 18.2 percent jump in fourth-quarter profit.

With sales buoyed by promotions during holiday and weather-related clearance activity, the company said that, in the quarter ended Jan. 29, net income amounted to $20.7 million, or 12 cents a diluted share. This compared with income of $17.5 million, or 10 cents a share, in the year-ago period.

Net sales grew 9 percent to $475 million, from $435.7 million. Wall Street predicted EPS of 13 cents on sales of $473.3 million.

Comparable-store sales edged up 1.1 percent, with the Chico’s/Soma Intimates and White House|Black Market brands posting comp increases of 1.2 percent and 0.9 percent, respectively.

Hurt by a rise in promotions, quarterly gross margin fell to 53.2 percent of sales versus 54.6 percent a year ago.

“Usually you get one or two things happening during a quarter, but this year, snowstorm on top of snowstorm, torrential rains, ice storms, mud slides occurring coast to coast, usually just in time for the busy weekends, which in turn caused several-hundred stores not to be able to open — I mean, what next? Locusts?” said president and chief executive officer David Dyer on the company conference call. “Unfortunately, we had to be more promotional to move the inventory built up by weather-related problems.”

For the year, the Fort Myers, Fla.-based retailer saw its profit leap 65.7 percent to $115.4 million, or 64 cents a diluted share, versus income of $69.6 million, or 39 cents a share, in 2009. Sales expanded 11.2 percent to $1.07 billion, from $1.71 billion.

Although it did not provide quarterly guidance or a projection for fiscal 2012, the company said it expects a sales increase in the midteens and set an EPS goal for fiscal 2013 of $1.50 a share.

Chico’s said that Kent Kleeberger, the company’s executive vice president and chief financial officer, will take the reins as executive vice president and chief operating officer. Jeffrey Jones, the current chief operating officer, is retiring on March 7. The firm lifted its quarterly dividend, payable March 28 to shareholders of record March 14, to 5 cents a share from 4 cents.

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