Apparel retailer Dress Barn Inc has reported a 34.2% drop in fourth quarter profit, but said it is tackling the "challenging retail environment" through strong inventory controls to reduce markdowns and tight management of expenses. 

Net earnings for the three months to 26 July dropped to $22.1m, or $0.34 per share from $33.6m, or $0.48 per share, a year earlier.

Quarterly sales rose 0.6% to $382.3m from $379.9m, while comparable store sales fell 2%.

By division, fourth quarter sales at Dressbarn stores were down 5.0% to $238.5m, with same-store sales falling 5%.

Net sales at Maurices stores rose 11.6% to $143.8m and comparable store sales were up 4%.

For the fiscal year, profit slumped 26.8% to $74.1m, or $1.15 per share, from $101.2m, or $1.45 per share, a year earlier.

Annual sales were flat at $1.444bn and comparable store sales fell 3%.

David R Jaffe, president and chief executive officer said: "While we have not been able to avoid the pressures of the marketplace, we have managed the business prudently and made a number of improvements to our operations."

In its guidance for fiscal 2009, the company said it expects earnings per share in the range of $1.23 to $1.28, with comparable store sales growth in the low single digits.

It plans to open 100 stores and close 30 stores over the next year, which will leave it with 1,575 stores in operation.