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MINNEAPOLIS-Women’s clothing retailer Christopher & Banks hit the high end of it year-over-year same-store sales guidance for December, rising 2%. During the retailer’s third-quarter conference call, executives predicted a flat-to-2% performance for the sales month, which ended Dec. 24.

December’s total sales increased 9%, to $60.2 million, and the company posted a 13% jump for the first 10 months of its fiscal year, to $424.1 million. In the last year, Christopher & Banks opened 59 stores, bringing its total to 707.

The retailer sold 11 million gift cards from Thanksgiving through Christmas, up from nine million last year. Adds CEO Joe Pennington, in a statement, “As we continue to have well-controlled inventories, we expect that January merchandise margins will trend above margins achieved last January.”

Meanwhile, company officials are fine-tuning the chains’ merchandise to focus more missy-oriented fashion trends. But Christopher & Banks is not changing the age groups it targets, Pennington has stressed. He says the shift will better help the company differentiate itself from discounters like Kohl’s.

For next year, executives forecast increasing the 504-store namesake chain, which targets women ages 40 to 60, by 35 to 40 units. C.J. Banks, a 179-store chain that caters to sizes 14 and up, will open 40 to 45 locations. Acorn, a concept with 24 stores that the company acquired last year, is adding 10 to 15 units.

Executives predict Q4 earnings per share to fall to approximately 14 cents, compared to 11 cents in last year’s fourth quarter. They anticipate a $1.4-million charge that will go toward contract payments to Bill Prange, the company’s former chairman and chief executive officer who resigned earlier this month.

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