Apparel retailer The Talbots Inc has reported sales of US$638.0m for the fourth quarter, versus last year's sales of $486.2m, while strengthening its recently acquired J Jill brand.

Total company same-store sales declined 1.6% for the 13-week period, compared to last year.

By brand, retail sales were $432.4m for Talbots compared to $414.1m last year, and $91.4m for J Jill, which was acquired in May. Sales for the J Jill brand represent approximately 20% of the total combined company sales volume.

Talbots also reconfirmed its previously announced outlook for consolidated first-quarter 2007 earnings per share to be in the range of $0.36 - $0.43 on a reported basis, based on a total company comparable store sales growth target of low single digits.

This total company expectation assumes Talbots brand first-quarter earnings per share to be in the range of approximately $0.53-$0.58, compared to the $0.51 reported last year in the first quarter. For its full-year fiscal 2007 outlook, the company anticipates Talbots brand 2007 earnings per share growth in the high teens

The Talbots chairman, president and CEO Arnold B Zetcher said: "As we plan for fiscal 2007 with leaner inventory commitments - particularly in the Talbots brand - and modest growth in total company comparable store sales, we are targeting total company sales to increase approximately 12%, reaching $2.5bn by year's end.

"With cost saving synergies and a continued tight control of operating expenses, we expect to nearly double earnings per share on a year-over-year basis."

He added: "In addition, we will make strategic changes to the way we manage our business in the first quarter of 2007. Based on the success of last year's August clearance event that greatly contributed to the strength of our third quarter performance, we will introduce a similar sale event in February of this year.

"This again gives us the opportunity to move our transitional merchandise at a time that is more relevant for our customer and to gain an additional week of regular-price selling in the period as we push back the start of our traditional March mid-season sale."