Ross Stores Inc. reported earnings per share for the fourth quarter ended Jan. 30, 2016, of $.66, up 10 percent from the prior year, on net earnings that rose 6 percent to $264 million. Sales for the fiscal 2015 fourth quarter grew 7 percent to $3.251 billion, with comparable store sales up 4 percent versus a 6 percent gain last year.
For the fiscal year, earnings per share rose 14 percent to $2.51 on top of strong multi-year increases, while net earnings increased 10 percent to $1.021 billion. Sales for the 2015 fiscal year grew 8 percent to $11.940 billion, with comparable store sales up 4 percent.
Barbara Rentler, Chief Executive Officer, commented, “We are pleased with our sales and earnings results for the fourth quarter, which exceeded our expectations despite the highly promotional holiday selling environment and our most challenging sales comparisons from the prior year. These results were driven by the competitive values we offered on a wide assortment of name brand bargains and gifts throughout our stores.”
Ms. Rentler continued, “Fourth quarter operating margin was 12.7 percent compared to 13.1 percent in the prior year, as higher merchandise margin and tight expense control were more than offset by the timing of packaway-related costs. For the 2015 fiscal year however, operating margin rose 10 basis points to a record 13.6 percent.”
Update on Stock Repurchase Program
A total of 13.7 million shares of common stock were repurchased during fiscal 2015, for an aggregate purchase price of $700 million under the two-year $1.4 billion program announced in February 2015. We expect to complete the $700 million remaining under this authorization in fiscal 2016.
Declaration of Higher Quarterly Cash Dividend
The Company’s Board of Directors also recently approved an increase in the quarterly cash dividend to $.135 per share, up 15 percent on top of an 18 percent increase last year. This higher quarterly dividend will be payable on March 31, 2016 to stockholders of record as of March 14, 2016.
Ms. Rentler noted, “The continued growth of our shareholder payouts reflects our ongoing confidence in the Company’s ability to generate significant amounts of cash after funding our growth and the other capital needs of our business. We have repurchased stock as planned every year since 1993 and raised our cash dividend annually since its inception in 1994. This consistent record reflects our unwavering commitment to enhancing stockholder value and returns.”
Fiscal 2016 Guidance
Looking ahead, Ms. Rentler said, “As we enter 2016, we continue to face our own challenging multi-year comparisons in an increasingly uncertain and volatile macro-economic and retail environment. As a result, while we hope to do better, we believe it is prudent to maintain a somewhat cautious outlook when forecasting sales and earnings for the coming year.”
For the 52-week fiscal year ending January 28, 2017, the Company is projecting same store sales to grow 1 percent to 2 percent and earnings per share of $2.59 to $2.71, up 3 percent to 8 percent from $2.51 in fiscal 2015. For the first quarter ending April 30, 2016, comparable store sales are forecast to be up 1 percent to 2 percent with earnings per share projected to be flat to up 4 percent to $.69 to $.72. This compares to EPS of $.69 in the first quarter of 2015, the strongest period last year, when comparable sales rose 5 percent and EPS grew 19 percent.