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Strong holiday sales give Finish Line a boost

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Indianapolis-based The Finish Line Inc. is getting an early Christmas present: strong holiday shopping sales.

The athletic shoe and apparel retailer said on Tuesday that sales at stores open more than a year rose 4.5 percent from Nov. 28 through Dec. 19 compared to the same period a year ago. Same-store sales is a key indicator for retailers because it excludes results from stores that open or close during the year.

Finish Line Chief Financial Officer Ed Wilhelm told IBJ the company is “pleased” and “encouraged” by its performance so far in December, but he declined to speculate on overall holiday shopping sales.

Profit in the third quarter, which ended Nov. 27, exceeded analysts’ expectations, hitting $4.1 million, or 8 cents per share, compared with $6.6 million, or 12 cents per share, a year ago. A tax benefit boosted the prior year's earnings by $6.4 million; without it, earnings per share would have been nearly flat.

Still, the drop in profit reflected on the company’s stock price, which quickly fell 5 percent to $17.85 in Wednesday morning trading.  

Revenue in the quarter rose 9 percent to $260.9 million from $240.1 million a year ago.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected 5 cents per share on revenue of $249.1 million.

Wilhelm attributed the rise in quarterly revenue to several factors, including a 25-percent increase in online sales, more foot traffic in stores and a rise in the overall dollar amount per transaction.

“We continue to sell more product at full retail [price] with fewer markdowns,” he said.

Running shoes continue to drive revenue, though sales of basketball shoes provided a boost.

The launch of Reebok’s ZigTech Slash shoe, endorsed by Washington Wizards rookie John Wall, and another shoe by Under Armour, supported by Milwaukee Bucks point guard Brandon Jennings, helped lift sales of an otherwise challenging category.

Same-store sales for the entire quarter jumped 10.1 percent compared with an increase of 1.7 percent the same time a year ago.

Finish Line also reported having $222 million in cash at the end of the quarter, up from $149.2 million the same period last year, and no interest-bearing debt.

The chain is working on a three-part strategy for spending its accumulated cash: reinvesting in the core Finish Line business, returning funds to shareholders through higher dividends and share repurchases, and diversifying its business either with a new retail concept developed in-house or through acquisitions.

Through three quarters of its fiscal year, Finish Line reported profit of $34.6 million, or 63 cents per share, compared with profit of $20 million, or 36 cents per share, including the tax benefit, in the year-ago period.

The retailer operates 669 stores in 47 states.

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