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Christopher & Banks Rallies on Reduced Loss

Gross margin improves 230 basis points as same-store sales slip 1.4 percent.

Shares of Christopher & Banks Corp. jumped more than 15 percent in morning trading Thursday as the women’s retailer cut its fourth-quarter loss more than expected.

For the three months ended Feb. 1, the Minneapolis-based women’s specialty retailer cut its net loss to $286,000, or 1 cent a diluted share, from a loss of $4.1 million, or 11 cents, in the year-ago quarter. Analysts on average had expected a loss of 3 cents a share.

Sales fell 9.5 percent to $104.9 million from $116 million. Eliminating $5.1 million in sales from the 14th week of the earlier quarter, sales were down 5.4 percent. Same-store sales, which also exclude the extra week in the prior year, declined 1.4 percent. The company, which has 551 stores overall, operated with an average of 43 fewer stores than it did during the 2012 period.

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The firm’s gross margin grew to 32.5 percent of sales from 30.2 percent in the year-ago quarter, and forecast 50 to 70 basis point improvement in gross margin for the first quarter, when it expects same-store sales to be “relatively flat.”

LuAnn Via, who became president and chief executive officer of the company in 2012 after serving in the same capacity for Payless ShoeSource for four years, noted that the firm achieved its financial goals for the quarter despite the disruptions brought on by severe winter weather during the quarter.

“Looking ahead, we remain focused on our key strategies, which include refining our merchandise assortment, maintaining healthy inventory levels, creating compelling marketing programs and capitalizing on our e-commerce site to drive incremental traffic and sales,” she said.

Shares rose 98 cents, or 15.9 percent, to $7.16 in morning trading Thursday, the largest increase among U.S.-based publicly held companies tracked by WWD. The stock’s 52-week high is $9.32, reached on Dec. 24, and the corresponding low is $5.29, dating back to Aug. 27.

The company, which has earmarked $23 million to $25 million for capital expenditures this year, expects its store count to be down about 7 percent by year’s end, with square footage 4 percent below fiscal 2013 levels.

The company’s nameplates include Christopher & Banks, plus-size specialist CJ Banks and MPW. The newer MPW format, which now accounts for 66 of the company’s units, combines missy, petite and women’s and has yielded better margins that the C&B and CJ Banks stores.

For the full year, the company returned to profitability with net income of $8.7 million, or 23 cents a diluted share, versus a net loss of $16.1 million, or 45 cents, in fiscal 2012. Revenues rose 1.3 percent to $435.8 million from $430.3 million and same-store sales rose 8.1 percent while gross margin grew to 34.7 percent from 29.4 percent in fiscal 2012.