NEW YORK — Women’s plus-size retailer Charming Shoppes Inc. reported fourth-quarter earnings on Wednesday that almost quadrupled as revenues jumped 36 percent.

In the three months ended Jan. 28, the company, which operates the Lane Bryant, Fashion Bug and Catherines Plus Sizes retail stores, earned $19.2 million, or 15 cents a diluted share, a penny ahead of analysts’ estimates. Charming Shoppes earned $4.9 million, or 4 cents, a year ago.

The company attributed the earnings results to strong operating margin from retail stores and a reduction in the tax rate for the quarter, as well as the earnings contribution from Crosstown Traders, a firm it acquired in June.

Fourth-quarter net sales were $799.6 million, up from $588 million last year. By division, direct-to-consumer sales were $155.8 million, while retail store sales were up 9 percent at $643.8 million. Consolidated same-store sales from retail store operations were up 7 percent, constituting a 19 percent increase from Catherines, a 10 percent rise from Lane Bryant and a 1 percent rise from Fashion Bug.

Gross margin expanded 90 basis points to 27.7 percent of sales, the company said, while merchandise margins rose 30 basis points.

The margin increases “were driven by a higher quality of sales primarily at Lane Bryant and Catherines, including fast returns, well-controlled inventory, lower levels of commercial pricing and a higher average in retail,” Gayle M. Coolick, director of investor relations, said on a post-earnings conference call with analysts.

In the year, Charming Shoppes earned $99.4 million, or 76 cents, up from $64.5 million, or 52 cents, last year. Annual sales were $2.76 billion, up 18 percent from $2.33 billion the previous year.

Charming Shoppes, based in Bensalem, Pa., said earlier this week that by yearend it plans to roll out 40 to 50 Cacique plus-size lingerie “side-by-side” stores, which will be adjacent to existing Lane Bryant stores. The company said on Wednesday’s call that it should be able to decide whether Cacique can be a stand-alone operation by later this year.

Charming Shoppes also said that it has acquired leases for 75 outlet stores, which should be opening by August or September.

This story first appeared in the March 16, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Management reaffirmed its full-year earnings-per-share outlook of 23 cents to 25 cents, which is in line with analysts’ estimates for 24 cents. Total sales are seen at $735 million to $745 million, ahead of analysts’ consensus for $709.9 million.

Shares of Charming Shoppes closed up 2 percent at $13.51 in Wednesday trading on the Nasdaq.

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