The shuttering of its A.J. Wright division pushed The TJX Cos. Inc.’s fourth-quarter earnings below analysts’ expectations despite improvements in same-store and net sales and gross margin.


In the three months ended Jan. 29, TJX, the largest U.S.-based off-price retailer, posted net income of $334.4 million, or 84 cents a diluted share, 15.3 percent below the $395 million, or 94 cents, registered during the final quarter of 2009. Eliminating nonrecurring items, principally costs associated with the A.J. Wright closure, EPS was $1.05, eclipsing by 3 cents the $1.02 expected, on average, by analysts polled by Yahoo Finance.


Net sales increased 6.6 percent to $6.33 billion from $5.94 billion in the year-ago period. Comparable-store sales rose 2 percent on top of the 2009 quarter’s 12 percent increase.


Gross margin advanced to 26.9 percent of sales from 26.6 percent in the prior-year period.


Carol Meyrowitz, chief executive officer, told analysts that improvements in TJX’s supply chain had “enabled us to reduce inventory…to historically low levels. As we run even leaner, we are turning inventories faster, buying closer to need and driving even more excitement to our stores. This has reduced markdowns, leading to sequential improvement in merchandise margin.”


These initiatives helped reduce costs in 2010, and the ceo estimated cost reductions of $50 million to $75 million “which will help protect our profit margin and offset other cost increases.”


Net income for the full year advanced 10.7 percent to $1.34 billion, or $3.30 a diluted share, from $1.21 billion, or $2.84, in 2009. Excluding onetime costs, EPS was $3.49. Sales reached $21.94 billion, 8.2 percent above the $20.29 billion registered in 2009.


The company forecast 2011 EPS of between $3.63 to $3.78, below the $3.81 initially projected by analysts, on sales of between $22.6 billion and $22.8 billion. The cautious guidance contributed to a decline Wednesday of 91 cents, or 1.8 percent, in TJX shares, which closed at $48.81.


The company raised its quarterly dividend to 19 cents a share from 15 cents, payable in June to shareholders of record in April.

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