Ross Stores Inc., the nation’s second largest off-price retailer, eked out a fourth-quarter profit increase as retailers reported mixed results on Thursday.

This story first appeared in the March 20, 2009 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Ross’ earnings for the three months ended Jan. 31 rose 3.1 percent to $97.4 million, or 76 cents a diluted share, from $94.5 million, or 70 cents, a year ago. Sales increased 5 percent to $1.73 billion from $1.65 billion, although comparable-store sales dipped 1 percent.

For the year, income rose 17 percent to $305.4 million on a sales gain of 8.6 percent to $6.49 billion.

A key to the earnings uptick was the large number of close-out opportunities in the marketplace during the quarter, said Michael Balmuth, vice chairman, president and chief executive officer.

Stein Mart Inc.’s loss widened to $56.2 million, or $1.35 a share, from $12.1 million, or 30 cents, a year ago. Results in the most recent quarter were pulled down by charges of 78 cents a share to cover asset impairment, store closings and a valuation allowance for deferred tax assets. Sales fell 12.8 percent to $363.9 million from $417.4 million as comps fell 12 percent.

For the year, the loss widened to $71.3 million, or $1.72 a share, on a 9 percent decline in sales to $1.33 billion.

David Stovall Jr., president and ceo, said the retailer’s two missions are to entice customers into its stores and manage the business to be cash flow positive.

New York & Company Inc. recorded a loss of $27.4 million, or 46 cents a diluted share, against a profit of $6.9 million, or 11 cents, in the year-ago period. Excluding a pretax charge of $24 million due mostly to a $22.9 million noncash asset impairment, the company’s adjusted net loss from continuing operations was $12.1 million, or 20 cents. Revenue slid 9.6 percent to $325.1 million, from $359.4 million, as comps fell 10.9 percent.

The loss for the year widened to $19.8 million, or 33 cents, on a 4.6 percent decrease in sales to $1.14 billion.

Chairman and ceo Richard Crystal said his company implemented a cost-reduction program and expects $30 million in pretax savings this year.

Cato Corp. swung to a profit, with income of $3.9 million, or 13 cents a share, against a loss of $1.8 million, or 6 cents a share, in last year’s quarter. Revenues were essentially flat at $212.2 million from $212.4 million, which included a 0.1 percent decline in sales to $209.1 million from $209.4 million. Comps fell 3 percent.

For the year, income rose 4.1 percent to $33.6 million on a revenue gain of 1.3 percent to $857.7 million.

John Cato, chairman, president and ceo, said, “Inventory remains lower on an average in-store basis than last year.”

The S&P Retail Index declined 0.5 points, or 0.2 percent, to end the day at 277.19, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 declined 1.2 and 1.3 percent, respectively.