Women's specialty retailer Coldwater Creek's fourth-quarter earnings came in at the high end of expectations that had been lowered back in January.

For the three months ended 3 February, the Sandpoint, Idaho-based firm registered net income of US$15.9m, 3.1% lower than the $16.4m registered during the 2005 quarter.

Earnings per diluted share were 17 cents in both periods and matched the revised guidance of 16 to 17 cents provided on 18 January. Earlier guidance had been set at 26 to 27 cents.

Sales were up 29.1% to $366.6m from $283.9m in the 2005 period, and same-store sales picked up 2.3% versus a 21.6% spike in the year-ago quarter. Gross profit dropped to 40.9% of sales from 44.9% a year earlier as heavier clearance activity was only partially offset by higher initial margins based on direct sourcing.

In addition to crossing the $1bn sales milestone, "we also navigated a challenging fourth quarter in terms of holiday season traffic, and although additional clearance activity had a negative impact on gross margin, we delivered on our commitment to end the period with a clean and current inventory position," said Dennis Pence, chairman and chief executive officer.

Retail sales were up 37.5% to $224.3m and represented 61.2% of the total, up from 57.5% during the final quarter of 2005.

For the full year, net income advanced one-third, to $55.4m, or 59 cents a diluted share, from $41.6m, or 44 cents. Net sales were up 35.3% to $1.05bn from $779.7m.

By Arnold J Karr.