Margins Swell at Ross Stores

Ross Stores ( ROST) reported a 26% increase in fourth-quarter earnings Tuesday, matching the Wall Street consensus. The company cited strong sales in its juniors, accessories and home departments.

In the period ended Jan. 31, the company earned $73.7 million, or 48 cents a share, compared with $58.7 million, or 37 cents a share, a year ago. Total sales increased 14% to $1.099 billion with a 4% rise in quarterly same-store sales.

The company said operating margin expanded 104 basis points to 11%, citing inventory and expense controls. Meanwhile, gross margin increased 93 basis points, Ross Stores said, citing lower markdowns but an 11-basis-point decrease in general and administrative spending.

The Newark, Calif.-based company said it expanded it total store count by 61 stores, or 12%, in all of 2003, bringing its total count to 568 stores. Looking to 2004, the company expects to expand its store base by 14%, or 70 new stores.

Ross Stores also said 10 of its new retail concept stores targeted toward lower-income consumers are expected to open the back half of 2004.

Shares of the company closed at $28.35 Monday in Nasdaq trading. They are slightly off their 52-week high of $32.86 reached on March 2.

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