The Children’s Place Widens 4Q Profit, Authorizes New Buyback Program

Shares of The Children’s Place (NASDAQ:PLCE) ticked 6% higher Wednesday after the retailer revealed a stronger-than-expected fourth-quarter profit, and announced another $100 million stock buyback program.

The Secaucus, N.J.-based company posted income from continuing operations of $32.7 million, or $1.24 a share, compared with $34.2 million, or $1.23 a share, in the same quarter last year.

Excluding special items, the company earned $1.22 a share, widely ahead of average analyst estimates polled by Thomson Reuters of $1.01.

Revenue for the operator of children’s specialty apparel retail stores was $453.2 million, down 2.1% from $462.8 million, in the same quarter last year, missing the Street’s view of $468.54 million.

The results were hurt by a 5.9% decrease in comparable retail sales, which includes online orders. Sales at those stores open at least a year slipped 9% in the U.S., 6.2% in Canada, and 31.7% online.

“We exceeded our bottom-line financial goals for the fourth quarter, despite lower sales, due to expense reductions and solid gross margin expansion,” said Jane Elfers, the company’s chief executive “Our disciplined inventory management resulted in fewer markdowns and the strongest fourth quarter gross margin rate in four years.”

Elfers went on to note that the company made “significant progress” during the year, repurchasing 1.9 million of its shares. Children’s Place announced on Wednesday a new authorization for another $100 million in stock.

Looking ahead, the company sees fiscal 2011 earnings in the range of $3.05 to $3.25 a share, assuming flat comparable retail sales. Wall Street analysts are anticipating earnings of $3.32 a share.