For the quarter, merchandise gross margin improved 10 basis points to 37.3% compared to the prior year quarter. Merchandise mix declines from ammunition sales were more than offset by margin improvement due to the elimination of free shipping to CLUB members and increased penetration of Cabela's brand merchandise.
"Starting in August, we saw a significant deceleration in the sales of firearms and ammunition as well as a challenging consumer environment across all business channels," Millner said. "To compensate, we increased marketing and advertising spending by several million dollars. In addition, we took an aggressive approach to managing other costs to levels consistent with how our business performed and will continue to manage those costs accordingly through the rest of the year."
"In the fourth quarter of last year, comp store sales increased a very strong 12.0%, which, at the time, was our largest increase ever as a public company. Due to this very difficult comparison, we expect comp store sales to decline at a mid-single digit rate in the fourth quarter. We believe that we have managed expense levels consistent with these expectations."
The Cabela's CLUB Visa program had another solid quarter. During the quarter, growth in average active credit card accounts accelerated to 10.1% due to increases in new customers, primarily in the Retail and Internet channels. For the quarter, net charge-offs remained at extremely low levels and were 1.72% compared to 1.71% in the prior year quarter. Increased Financial Services revenue was driven by increases in interest and fee income as well as interchange income. With 2008 restructured credit card loans approaching their five year statutory maturity, and additional history on loans restructured subsequent to 2008, we are now able to perform additional analysis regarding performance of the restructured loan portfolio. As a result of this analysis, the allowance for loan losses was reduced by $5.1 million during the quarter, compared to a $1.3 million reduction in the third quarter last year.
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