As a result of strong February merchandise margins, Christopher & Banks Corporation is increasing its earnings estimates for its fiscal fourth quarter.

The company said that for the four-week period ended 25 February, 2006 total sales increased 2% to US$28.9m from $28.4m last year, while same-store sales declined 6%.

For the fiscal fourth quarter total sales increased 6% to $126.6m. Same-store sales for the fourth quarter were down 1% from the prior year period.

For the 2006 fiscal year, total sales increased 12% to $490.5m. Same-store sales for the year rose 1%. As of 25 February, 2006, the company operated 705 stores compared to 642 stores as of February 26, 2005.

Joe Pennington, chief executive officer, said: "While same-store sales were down for the month, we continued our focus on maintaining lean inventory levels. We were encouraged that same-store sales during the final week of the month were positive as the customer response to our first Spring floorset was strong. Further, we were very pleased with the significant improvement in our February merchandise margins which resulted from the positive acceptance of our evolving merchandise assortment along with a reduction in clearance inventory."

In a statement the company said that as a result of strong February merchandise margins, the company is increasing its earnings estimates for its fiscal fourth quarter and now anticipates earnings per diluted share will range from $0.16 to $0.17 compared to $0.15 to $0.16 issued by the company on February 2, 2006. This compares to prior year fourth quarter diluted earnings per share results of $0.11.

For the fiscal first quarter ending May 27, 2006, after taking into account the impact of expensing stock options, earnings are anticipated to be in the range of $0.29 to $0.30 per diluted share compared to $0.27 per diluted share last year.

For the 2007 fiscal year ending March 3, 2007, the company anticipates that fiscal 2007 earnings will range from $0.96 to $1.00 per diluted share, which includes the effect of expensing stock based compensation.

In fiscal 2007 the company plans to open approximately 85 to 100 stores, comprised of 35 to 40 Christopher & Banks stores, 40 to 45 CJ Banks stores and up to 15 Acorn stores. Approximately 35 new stores are planned to open in the first quarter of the year with the balance of the stores expected to open in the second and third quarters. Capital expenditures for fiscal 2007, primarily for new stores and store remodels, are planned at approximately $30m.