By and  on March 20, 2009

Ross Stores Inc., the nation’s second largest off-price retailer, eked out a fourth-quarter profit increase as retailers reported mixed results on Thursday.

Ross’ earnings for the three months ended Jan. 31 rose 3.1 percent to $97.4 million, or 76 cents a diluted share, from $94.5 million, or 70 cents, a year ago. Sales increased 5 percent to $1.73 billion from $1.65 billion, although comparable-store sales dipped 1 percent.

For the year, income rose 17 percent to $305.4 million on a sales gain of 8.6 percent to $6.49 billion.

A key to the earnings uptick was the large number of close-out opportunities in the marketplace during the quarter, said Michael Balmuth, vice chairman, president and chief executive officer.

Stein Mart Inc.’s loss widened to $56.2 million, or $1.35 a share, from $12.1 million, or 30 cents, a year ago. Results in the most recent quarter were pulled down by charges of 78 cents a share to cover asset impairment, store closings and a valuation allowance for deferred tax assets. Sales fell 12.8 percent to $363.9 million from $417.4 million as comps fell 12 percent.

For the year, the loss widened to $71.3 million, or $1.72 a share, on a 9 percent decline in sales to $1.33 billion.

David Stovall Jr., president and ceo, said the retailer’s two missions are to entice customers into its stores and manage the business to be cash flow positive.

New York & Company Inc. recorded a loss of $27.4 million, or 46 cents a diluted share, against a profit of $6.9 million, or 11 cents, in the year-ago period. Excluding a pretax charge of $24 million due mostly to a $22.9 million noncash asset impairment, the company’s adjusted net loss from continuing operations was $12.1 million, or 20 cents. Revenue slid 9.6 percent to $325.1 million, from $359.4 million, as comps fell 10.9 percent.

The loss for the year widened to $19.8 million, or 33 cents, on a 4.6 percent decrease in sales to $1.14 billion.

Chairman and ceo Richard Crystal said his company implemented a cost-reduction program and expects $30 million in pretax savings this year.

Cato Corp. swung to a profit, with income of $3.9 million, or 13 cents a share, against a loss of $1.8 million, or 6 cents a share, in last year’s quarter. Revenues were essentially flat at $212.2 million from $212.4 million, which included a 0.1 percent decline in sales to $209.1 million from $209.4 million. Comps fell 3 percent.

For the year, income rose 4.1 percent to $33.6 million on a revenue gain of 1.3 percent to $857.7 million.

John Cato, chairman, president and ceo, said, “Inventory remains lower on an average in-store basis than last year.”

The S&P Retail Index declined 0.5 points, or 0.2 percent, to end the day at 277.19, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 declined 1.2 and 1.3 percent, respectively.

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