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"2016 was a very disappointing year for Cato. The overall apparel retail environment continued to be difficult and was compounded by several mistakes of our own. We also are being impacted by the disruption caused by the growth of online sales at other retailers, resulting in lower store traffic. In the back half of the year, we made several mistakes in our merchandise assortment, fit and timing. This resulted in significant reductions to regular priced sales causing us to liquidate a large portion of our slow selling inventory which put severe pressure on earnings," commented John Cato, Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer. Fourth quarter gross margin decreased to 28.8% of sales from 36.1% of sales in 2015 primarily due to reduced merchandise margins and higher occupancy costs. Selling, general and administrative expenses were 38.2% of sales, compared to 28.6% in the prior year. SG&A costs as a percent of sales were higher primarily due to significant store impairment charges. The tax rate for fourth quarter was a benefit due to having a pre-tax loss. For 2016, gross margin decreased to 36.5% of sales from 38.4% of sales in 2015 due to reduced merchandise margins and higher occupancy costs. Selling, general and administrative expenses increased to 30.6%of sales compared to 27.6% in the prior year. The selling, general and administrative expense increase was primarily due to significant store impairment charges. The Company's effective income tax rate decreased to 4% from 32.6% last year primarily due to reduction of pre-tax income and favorable tax adjustments in 2016. "Cato continues to maintain a strong balance sheet, with approximately $248 million in cash and short-term investments and no debt," commented Mr. Cato. During 2016, the Company returned $78.0 million to shareholders through dividends of $35.4 million and share repurchases of $42.6 million. The Company maintained its quarterly dividend of $0.33 per share, or $1.32 per year. For the fiscal year ended January 28, 2017, the Company opened eight stores, relocated six stores and closed nine stores. As of January 28, 2017, the Company operated 1,371 stores in 33 states. 2017 Outlook "Due to the continued volatility and overall difficulty in the retail environment, we believe 2017 will be another challenging year for Cato," commented Mr. Cato. "In February, we initially believed there was a large negative sales impact due to delayed tax refunds, and anticipated a sales rebound in March. However, we have found the rebound to be much less than anticipated. Also, we continue to work through our merchandise assortment missteps. Due to these issues, we expect our negative sales trends to continue through the quarter and expect our first quarter earnings to be significantly below last year. As a reminder, the Easter holiday has shifted from March last year to April this year, so we won't have a true read on first quarter results until after April. We do see opportunity for improvement in future quarters as the merchandise assortment issues are corrected; however, this will not overcome the shortfall of the first quarter. For the year, the Company expects same-store sales in the negative low single digits resulting in pre-tax net income above last year; however, net income will be below last year due to favorable tax adjustments in 2016." Read More