Now I'd like to turn the call over to you, Michael Balmuth, Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.Michael Balmuth Good morning. Joining me on our call today are Norman Ferber, Chairman of the Board; Michael O'Sullivan, President and Chief Operating Officer; Gary Cribb, Executive Vice President, Stores and Loss Prevention; John Call, Group Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer; and Bobbi Chaville, Senior Director, Investor Relations. We'll begin with a review of our fourth quarter and 2011 performance, followed by our outlook for 2012. Afterwards, we'll be happy to respond to any questions you may have. We are very pleased with our robust sales and earnings in the fourth quarter and fiscal year of 2011, especially considering they were achieved on top of strong multi-year gains. Our healthy revenue growth continues to be driven mainly by our ability to deliver compelling bargains on a wide assortment of exciting name-brand fashions for the family and the home to today's increasingly value-focused consumers. In addition, we continued to operate our business on lower in-store inventories, which benefited profit margin by driving faster turns and lower markdowns. It also enhanced sales by increasing the percentage of fresh merchandise in our stores. Earnings per share for the 13 weeks ended January 28, 2012 were $0.85, up from $0.69 for the 13 weeks ended January 29, 2011. These results represent a 23% increase on top of 18% and 53% gains in the fourth quarters of 2010 and 2009, respectively. Net earnings for the 2011 fourth quarter grew 19% to $192 million. For the 52 weeks ended January 28, 2012, earnings per share were $2.86, up 24% on top of 31% and 52% gains in fiscal 2010 and 2009. Net earnings for fiscal 2011 increased 18% to $657.2 million. Fourth quarter sales rose 12% to $2,398,000,000, with comparable store sales up 7% on top of 4% and 10% gains in the fourth quarter of the prior 2 years. For the full year, total sales grew 9% to $8,608,000,000, with same store sales up 5% on top of 5% and 6% increases in 2010 and 2009, respectively.
Juniors and Shoes were the best-performing merchandise categories for the quarter. For the full year, strongest businesses were Dresses, Shoes and Juniors.Geographic trends were broad-based with all regions posting solid same-store sales increases for both the quarter and the year. Florida was the top region for both periods. Earnings before interest and taxes for the 2011 fourth quarter grew to 13% of sales, up about 70 basis points on top of 60 and 260 basis point increases in the prior 2 years. For fiscal 2011, operating margin rose to a record 12.4%, up 85 basis points on top of 140 and 250 basis point gains in fiscal 2010 and 2009, respectively. Our improved profit margins for both the quarter and the full year were driven primarily by a combination of higher merchandise gross margin, lower shortage costs and leverage on operating expenses from the strong gain in same-store sales. John will provide some additional color on these operating margin trends in a few minutes. As we ended the fourth quarter, total consolidated inventories were up about 4% compared to the prior year mainly due to higher packaway levels that were about 49% of total inventories, up from 47% at this time last year. In-store inventories were down, on an average, about 7% in 2011 on top of double-digit declines in the prior 3 years. Our expansion plans remained on track as we added 49 net new Ross Stores during the quarter. As previously mentioned on our November earnings call, this growth included our initial entry into the Midwest region in October, with the opening of 12 new Ross Dress for Less stores in the greater Chicago area. As planned, we also accelerated new store growth at dd's DISCOUNTS in 2011, adding 21 locations and ending the year with 88 stores in 7 states. This business continued to deliver solid sales in 2011 and had a significant -- and had significant gains in operating profit compared to 2010 when it realized its first year of positive earnings. Similar to Ross, dd's has benefited from our ability to deliver a faster flow of fresh and exciting product to our stores while operating on lower inventory levels. Read the rest of this transcript for free on seekingalpha.com