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Ross Stores posts surprise Q1 earnings in most challenging time
May '09
Ross Stores Inc reported that earnings per share for the 13 weeks ended May 2, 2009 rose 20% to $.72, from $.60 for the 13 weeks ended May 3, 2008. First quarter 2008 results included a real estate settlement that increased earnings per share by about $.02 during the period. Net earnings for the first quarter of 2009 rose to a record $91.4 million, compared to $79.5 million in the first quarter of 2008. Sales for the 13 weeks ended May 2, 2009 grew 9% to $1.692 billion, with comparable store sales up 3% on top of a 3% gain in the prior year.

Michael Balmuth, Vice Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, commented, "We are very pleased with our strong sales and earnings results in the first quarter, which were well ahead of plan. This performance is especially noteworthy considering that it was achieved in one of the most challenging economic and retail environments on record. Our business benefited mainly from our ability to offer customers fresh and exciting name brand bargains, as we continue to take advantage of the substantial amount of close-out opportunities in the marketplace. The best performing merchandise categories during the period were Dresses and Shoes, while the strongest region was the Mid-Atlantic."

Mr. Balmuth continued, "Operating margin for the quarter grew about 75 basis points to 8.9%, primarily driven by a 90 basis point improvement in gross margin. Partially offsetting this gain was a 15 basis point increase in selling, general and administrative costs versus the prior year. Last year benefited by about 30 basis points from income related to the previously mentioned real estate settlement."

Mr. Balmuth also noted, "Our balance sheet and cash flows remain healthy. We continued to return capital to stockholders during the quarter through our stock repurchase and dividend programs. During the first three months of fiscal 2009, we repurchased 2.2 million shares of common stock for an aggregate purchase price of $77 million. We remain on track to complete the remaining $223 million stock repurchase authorization by the end of fiscal 2009."

Looking ahead, Mr. Balmuth said, "While the external environment remains challenging, our much better-than-expected results year-to-date reflect that consumers are continuing to respond very favorably to the compelling values we offer. As a result, we have increased our sales and earnings outlook for the second quarter and the back half of 2009."

"For the second quarter ending August 1, 2009, we are now forecasting same store sales to be flat to down 1%, on top of a strong 6% gain in the prior year. This compares to our previous second quarter guidance for a mid single digit percentage decline in comparable store sales. We also are raising our same store sales guidance for the second half of this year from relatively flat to up 2% to 3%, compared to a 1% decline in the same period last year," said Mr. Balmuth.

Based on these updated sales targets, the Company is projecting second quarter earnings per share to be in the range of $.60 to $.63, versus $.54 in the prior year period. For the 52 weeks ending January 30, 2010, earnings per share are now forecast to be in the range of $2.62 to $2.72. This compares to the Company's initial fiscal 2009 earnings per share guidance of $2.25 to $2.45 and reported EPS of $2.33 in fiscal 2008.

Ross Stores Inc

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