NEW YORK — Although results for the specialty retailers reporting second-quarter sales and earnings Wednesday were mixed, their mood was upbeat about the back half of the year as shoppers strongly respond to fall merchandise sets, and several of the companies are growing their store base.

But for the bottom line, results were bright for some and dim for others. For the second quarter, Charming Shoppes Inc. delivered profits that soared 48.8 percent, while Talbots Inc. posted a 4.8 percent net income gain. For Ross Stores Inc., net income fell 40.3 percent, while Hot Topic Inc. said profits plummeted 22 percent.

Talbots Inc.’s net income for the three months ended July 31 came in at $19.4 million, or 34 cents a diluted share, compared with $18.5 million, or 32 cents, last year. The results included a $3.4 million income tax benefit resulting from the resolution of tax disputes from prior years. Sales gained 5.1 percent to $409.4 million from $389.6 million. Retail sales included a 9 percent increase in catalogue sales to $54.5 million, while same-store sales inched up 0.3 percent gain.

Arnold Zetcher, chairman, president and chief executive officer, said in a conference call to Wall Street that the quarter reflected some softness in two categories, dress and kids, that represent 10 percent of the retailer’s annual sales. He added, “We are pleased that our customer appears to be happy with our new fall product assortments and we have our comprehensive marketing plan in place to help drive customer traffic.” That plan includes a new fall advertising campaign for print and television.

For the six-month period, income jumped 10.1 percent to $52.8 million, or 92 cents a diluted share, from $47.9 million, or 83 cents, a year ago, while sales rose 5.6 percent to $828.4 million from $784.6 million.

Charming Shoppes said second-quarter income skyrocketed to $27.7 million, or 22 cents a diluted share, from $18.6 million, or 15 cents, last year, while sales inched up 1 percent to $611.7 million from $605.5 million.

Company executives said in a conference call to Wall Street that the year-over-year increase in earnings was driven primarily by improved operating results at Lane Bryant, which had a 3 percent comps gain. Both Fashion Bug and Catherines failed to meet sales expectations, with the latter showing a 6 percent comps decline for the quarter.Dorrit Bern, chairman, president and ceo, said while there is a slowdown in traffic, which the company attributed to higher gasoline costs, the company is seeing a higher average transaction, particularly at the Lane Bryant nameplate.

The company reaffirmed its projection for diluted earnings per share for the year in the range of 56 cents and 58 cents, versus 35 cents a year ago. Third-quarter EPS is expected to be between 3 cents and 4 cents, based on sales projections of $550 million and comparable-store sales in the flat-to-low-single-digit gains.

For the six-month period, earnings shot up by a whopping 92.9 percent to $54.7 million, or 43 cents a diluted share, from $28.3 million, or 24 cents, last year, while sales increased 3 percent to $1.2 billion from $1.17 billion.

Meanwhile, Ross Stores said earnings fell 40.3 percent to $32.6 million, or 22 cents a diluted share, from $54.6 million, or 35 cents, in the same year-ago period. The drop was due in part to a write-down in connection with the firm’s former corporate office and distribution center in Newark, Calif. Sales rose 4.5 percent to $1.01 billion from $965.6 million.

Michael Balmuth, vice chairman and ceo, said in a statement, “We believe that our business in the second quarter was affected by problems associated with our new core merchandising system and the resulting limitations these placed on our ability to identify and respond to changes in customer trends — especially in what appears recently to be a more difficult retail climate.”

For the six-month period, profits fell 21.9 percent to $81.1 million, or 53 cents a diluted share, from $103.9 million, or 67 cents, in the prior year, while sales increased 8.4 percent to $2 billion from $1.84 billion.

For Hot Topic, second-quarter sales rose 17.8 percent to $136.3 million from $115.7 million. But that was not enough to push the bottom line up, year-over-year. Net income dropped to $4.6 million, or 10 cents a share, from $5.9 million, or 12 cents, in the prior year. Same-store sales fell 2.1 percent.

Regarding store openings, management said it expects to open 90 stores in 2004, “10 more than the previously announced 80 new Hot Topic stores.” By the close of this year, the firm will have 77 Torrid nameplates and 591 Hot Topic stores in its base.

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