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BENSALEM, PA-Unseasonable warm weather for much of the winter hurt Charming Shoppe’s fourth-quarter sales executives say, reducing the demand for cold-weather attire. “We didn’t have any reason for a woman to buy a sweater because she didn’t need one until February,” said Dorrit Bern, chairman, president and CEO of the company, during its quarterly conference call.

The operator of plus-size women’s chains, such as Lane Bryant, posted a year-over-year same-store sales drop of 1% during the quarter, which ended Jan. 27. Meanwhile, net sales rose 9%, to $874 million, and net income was $24.9 million, up 30% from the same year-ago period.

For the current quarter, management expects more disappointment from the now-cold weather, predicting flat same-store sales. “Spring has not sprung,” Bern says. “When we have seen the sun appear in part of the United States, we see a great uplift on our business.”

The company is planning between 90 and 100 new stores this year, 75 to 90 relocations and 40 to 50 store closures. Most of the openings will be from the Lane Bryant chain, in a store-by-store combo format with the company’s new lingerie concept, Cacique. There are currently 44 of the Cacique combo stores, which average 7,000 sf, compared to the typical Lane Bryant footprint of 5,500 sf.

For the full year, executives predict a low-digit, same-store sales increase and earnings per share of between 85 cents and 89 cents, up from 81 cents in 2006. Charming Shoppes operates 1,009 Fashion Bug and Fashion Bug Plus stores, 859 Lane Bryant and Lane Bryant Outlet units, 465 Catherines Plus Sizes locations, and 45 Petite Sophisticate Outlets.

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