* Profit before items 14 cents/share vs Street view 7 cents
* 4th-quarter U.S. retail revenue down 6.6 percent
* Gross margin falls 1.2 points to 34.6 percent
Feb 13 (Reuters) - Jones Group Inc, the fashion company behind such brands as Nine West and Jones New York, reported a higher-than-expected profit for the holiday quarter on Wednesday as sales of its shoes and jeans to U.S. department stores picked up.
Fourth-quarter revenue rose 8.8 percent to $971.9 million, more than the $955.3 million Wall Street was expecting, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
For 2013, Jones forecast revenue of between $3.9 billion and $4.1 billion, an increase of 2.6 percent to 10.8 percent over 2012. That compares with analysts’ estimates of $3.88 billion.
The company expects the biggest gains to come in its U.S. wholesale division.
Jones, which in recent years has benefited from its shift to higher-end brands with the acquisition of names such as Stuart Weitzman and Kurt Geiger, will continue to focus on building its upscale offerings in 2013, Chief Executive Officer Wesley Card said in a statement.
Kurt Geiger was Jones’ fastest-growing brand last year. Its revenue rose 52.5 percent to $305 million last year.
But sales fell for the company’s two biggest brands, Nine West and Jones New York, which together account for two-fifths of total business.
Jones’ own U.S. stores continued to struggle, with revenue down 6.6 percent in the quarter. The company warned in October that it would be a tough holiday season for its stores, given how aggressive competitors would be in offering deals and discounts.
Gross margin fell 1.2 percentage points to 34.6 percent of sales in the quarter. The company said that as part of its efforts to improve margins, it would be careful about building up too much inventory in 2013.
Jones, which gets nearly half of its revenue by selling to chains like Macy’s Inc and Nordstrom Inc, said jeans sales to U.S. retailers rose 6.8 percent, while shoe sales were up 5.5 percent.
The company’s fourth-quarter net loss deepened to $80.1 million, or $1.06 per share, from $8.2 million, or 27 cents per share, a year earlier.
Excluding restructuring and other costs, Jones earned 14 cents per share, beating the 7 cents analysts were projecting.