NEW YORK — Hot Topic Inc. increased fourth-quarter earnings the old-fashioned way — by growing sales and comps.

For the three months ended Feb. 1, the City of Industry, Calif.-based specialty chain said net income ascended by nearly a third, or 32.8 percent, to $16.6 million, or 51 cents a diluted share. That compares with profits of $12.5 million, or 38 cents, in the prior-year quarter. Earnings per share overran the Wall Street forecast by 2 cents.

While the difficult environment at retail has forced many companies to boost their bottom lines with cost cuts and margin expansion, Hot Topic did it with a commensurate 35.9 percent increase in net sales to $148.3 million from $109.1 million. Quarterly comparable-store sales rose 9.7 percent and February comps climbed 4 percent.

"This is the fourth consecutive year of increased fourth-quarter comps," said chief executive officer Betsy McLaughlin on a conference call with analysts. "All geographic areas comped up, with the Southwest performing the best. Apparel sales represented 48 percent of our business this quarter as opposed to 53 percent last year. We had great results in accessories, women’s and rock music-based merchandise. The men’s business comped down approximately 22 percent during the quarter."

The release came after the markets closed, but Hot Topic shares followed the major indices down, losing 68 cents, or 3.1 percent, to close at $21.23 in Nasdaq trading Tuesday.

In a research note to investors, Wells Fargo Securities analyst Jennifer Black wrote: "We do not see Hot Topic’s momentum slowing any time soon. The company continues to cater to a very distinct niche market. Additionally, Hot Topic’s accessories business was difficult during the first part of the last fiscal year, leaving the company huge opportunity in this category during the first quarter."

Overall, for the full fiscal year, Hot Topic reported a 21 percent increase in net income to $34.6 million, or $1.05 a diluted share. By comparison, last year the company had profits of $28.6 million, or 86 cents.

Net sales for the year swelled 31.9 percent to $443.2 million from $336.1 million a year ago, with comps up 5 percent, marking the company’s seventh consecutive year of full-year comp-store increases.In guidance, Hot Topic said it expects full-year earnings of about $42 million, or $1.26, on sales of about $545 million. Full-year comps are forecast to grow in the mid-single digits.

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