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BJ's earnings up, barely

NATICK, Mass. — With weaker margins and rising costs offsetting a double-digit gain in sales, BJ's Wholesale Club Inc., a Northeast no-frills retailer, pushed fourth-quarter earnings up a skimpy 1.5 percent, to $49.2 million from $48.5 million last year.

Sales at the warehouse club climbed by 12.6 percent, to $1.9 billion from $1.7 billion last year, with the all-important measure of same-store sales rising by 7.5 percent, including a contribution of about 1 percentage point from gasoline sales.

Taking a bite out of the bottom line, average gross margin contracted by 20 basis points, or two-tenths of a percentage point, to 9.5 percent from 9.7 percent the preceding year. In another drag on earnings, costs climbed higher by 40 basis points, or four-tenths of a percentage point, to 7.3 percent of sales from 6.9 percent a year ago. Measured in absolute dollars, costs shot up by 19.5 percent, far outpacing the 12.6 percent increase in sales, to $138.8 million from $116.2 million last year.

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