Department store operator Kohl's Corporation is planning conservatively for 2009 after fourth quarter profit fell 18.4% to US$336m.

Net sales in the three months to 31 January were down 4.6% to $5.2bn, with comparable store sales for the quarter down 9.1%.

Full-year profit was also down 18.4% to $885m, as net sales edged down 0.5% to $16.4bn, with comparable store sales down 6.9%.

"Despite the sales results, we delivered improved merchandise margins through strong inventory management and successful exclusive brand strategies," said Kohl's president and CEO Kevin Mansell.

"We also managed expenses well while improving our store experience. We expect 2009 to be just as challenging from a macro-economic perspective. We are planning conservatively in our sales expectations, inventory levels and expenses."

The company said it expects to open about 55 stores during 2009, also remodelling a further 51 outlets.

Based on projections of a total sales decrease of 1-4% and a comparable store sales fall of 5-8% during fiscal 2009, Kohl's expects full-year earnings per diluted share of $2.00-2.30.

For the first quarter, the company is forecasting EPS of $0.27-0.34, based on an assumed comparable store sales decline of 5-8%.