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AnnTaylor Tops Forecasts Despite Shortfall at Loft Stores

Women's apparel retailer AnnTaylor Storessaid on Friday that quarterly net profit fell, hurt by unseasonably warm weather across much of the country and a fashion miss at its Loft stores.

Sales at stores open at least a year at Ann Taylor fell 5.9% in the fourth quarter as warm weather hurt sales of the division's weather-sensitive categories like sweaters, outerwear and cold-weather accessories.

At Loft, comparable store sales declined 8.9% for the quarter, reflecting a merchandise assortment, most notably sweaters, that was too heavily focused on fashion.

Net income for the fourth quarter was $21.5 million, or 31 cents a share, compared with $27.4 million, or 38 cents a share, a year ago.

Net sales for the quarter, which had one extra week compared with a year ago, were up 6.3% at $610.5 million.

Analysts on average were expecting the New York-based company, which operates Loft, as well as its flagship Ann Taylor chain, to earn 29 cents a share, on revenue of $605.6 million, according to Reuters Estimates.

Looking ahead, the company said it sees some softness from Loft in the first half, followed by improving trends for the division in the second half of the year.

The company forecast earnings of $2.15 to $2.25 a share for fiscal 2007. It sees comparable store sales growth in the low-single-digit range for the year.

Analysts expect earnings of $2.11 a share.

In a statement, AnnTaylor said its board has authorized a $300 million share buyback plan.