UPDATE 1-Ann Taylor owner's margin outlook boosts shares
Feb 6 (Reuters) - Women's apparel retailer Ann Inc, owner of the Ann Taylor and Loft stores, reported fourth-quarter margins that suggested the company did not have to discount heavily in the holiday shopping season.
Ann's shares rose 5.5 percent in early trading even as the company cut its fourth-quarter sales estimate, blaming weak traffic and consumer spending.
With fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas, extreme cold weather and a weak consumer spending environment, the 2013 holiday season posed a challenge for retailers, many of whom were forced to offer deep discounts to entice shoppers.
Ann said it expects to report a gross margin of about 49.2 percent for the quarter, compared with the 49.1 percent it reported a year earlier.
Total comparable store sales fell 1 percent at the company's pricier Ann Taylor brand, which targets women over the age of 30. At the Loft brand, which offers casual apparel for younger women, total comparable store sales rose 6 percent.
Ann on Thursday estimated sales of $623 million, down from the $640 million it had forecast in November.
Analysts on average were expecting sales of $636.4 million, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
"Soft traffic and tepid consumer spending across the industry negatively impacted us, particularly in factory outlet centers and geographic regions that experienced extreme winter weather," Ann Chief Executive Kay Krill said in a statement.
Ann will report fourth-quarter results on March 14.
New York-based Ann's shares were trading at $33.08 on the New York Stock Exchange on Thursday.
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