By  on March 10, 2009

Lower sales and margins brought Stage Stores Inc.’s fourth-quarter profits down 20 percent, but the company expects easier comparisons and even retail attrition to help lift its performance in the back half of the current year.

For the period ended Jan. 31, the Houston-based operator of the Bealls, Palais Royal, Peebles and Stage department store chains recorded net income of $25.3 million, or 67 cents a diluted share, down from $31.7 million, or 78 cents a share, in the year-ago quarter. Sales dropped 3.6 percent, to $455.8 million from $473 million, and slid 7.2 percent on a same-store basis. Gross margin eased to 29.1 percent of sales from 31 percent.

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