SUNGLASS HUT GAINS IN 4TH PERIOD, YEAR

NEW YORK — Reaping the benefits of a store-closing program and the rollout of sunglass-watch combination stores, Sunglass Hut International Inc. reported earnings jumped 33.8 percent in the fourth quarter and 35 percent in the year.
In the quarter, the owner of the Sunglass Hut and Watch Station chains earned $1.7 million, or 4 cents a share, up from $1.3 million, or 3 cents, a year ago. The latest quarter included a $738,000 charge to discontinue its EyeX optical unit. Excluding this charge, earnings surged 67 percent.
Sales gained 8.5 percent to $151.1 million from $139.3 million and rose 7.4 percent on a comparable-store basis.
In the year, earnings gained 35 percent to $26.8 million, or 57 cents, from $19.8 million, or 38 cents, a year ago. Sales increased 5.6 percent to $635.6 million from $602 million, with same-store sales ahead 6.8 percent.
John X. Watson, president and chief executive, said earnings benefited from the closing of 500 underperforming stores since 1997 and the rollout of sunglass-watch combination stores.
The firm, based in Coral Gables, Fla., now has 203 combo stores and plans to expand or convert 250 stores each year going forward. The firm has 1,574 Sunglass Hut locations and 111 Watch Station stores.
Watson cited “significantly improved results of operations in both Australia and Europe,” with strong comps gains overall overseas. E-commerce efforts started in 1999 with the launch of Sunglasshut.com and the development of Shades.com and SwissArmyDepot.com, he said.
“We will continue to execute the merchandising, marketing and combo store conversion strategies that have contributed to our accomplishments over the past year,” Watson said. “We believe we have created a solid platform on which to further expand our business and are well positioned to capitalize on future growth opportunities.”