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Ross sticks to cautious Q4 guidance

Pleasanton, Calif. - Ross Stores Inc. reported double-digit growth in net earnings and sales during its third quarter, propelling to off-price chain's better-than-expected year-to-date results. Still, the retailer is playing it safe in terms of fourth quarter projections.

"Our focus on bargains continues to make our stores attractive destinations for value-conscious customers. During the holiday season, however, it is always difficult to predict how promotional other retailers may become or how current macro-economic and political uncertainties may impact consumer spending," said Michael Balmuth, vice chairman and ceo, during the company's quarterly conference call.

He noted Ross is anniversarying a 7% increase in same store sales from last year's fourth quarter. "So, while we hope to do better, we believe it is prudent to maintain our prior fourth quarter guidance," he said.

Net earnings for the third quarter, ended Oct. 27, grew 11% to $159.5 million, and earnings per share rose 14% to 72 cents. Sales were up 11% to $2.26 billion, and comps increased 6%, compared to a 5% gain in the prior year.

For the nine months, net earnings grew 18% to $550.2 million, and earnings per share rose 22% to $2.46, up from $2.01. Year-to-date sales jumped 12% to $6.96 billion, and comps grew 7%, on top of a 5% gain last year.

The 1,097-unit chain is sticking with its outlook for the fourth quarter, Balmuth noted, which calls for same-store sales to be up 1% to 2% and earnings per share to be in the range of 99 cents to $1.04, compared to 85 cents in the year-ago Q4.

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