- The Washington Times - Monday, December 29, 2003

Shares of Jos. A. Bank Clothiers Inc. climbed yesterday after the men’s apparel maker said its sales for December would be higher than expected.

The Hampstead, Md., company said it overcame a shortened holiday season and wintry weather to post sales that surpassed the estimates of management and some analysts. The company will report specific sales figures on Jan. 8.

Yesterday, shares of Jos. A. Bank rose $1.16 to close at $34.68 on the Nasdaq, their highest point in nearly a month.

“Despite having to deal with two snowstorms along the East Coast this month, and in contrast to reports by many retailers, our sales for the month of December have been above plan so far,” the company said in a statement.

The company said December figures are expected to build on November sales, which rose from $24.8 million in November 2002 to $29.6 million this year. Sales for the year through November were already up about 20 percent. Much of the increase has been the result of new stores and Internet and catalog sales, but the company reported that sales from existing stores increased 6.6 percent.

Jos. A. Bank specializes in professional men’s clothing, including suits, dress shirts and pants. Analysts said Jos. A. Bank has benefited as larger department stores devote less space to selling men’s clothing.

“They have a little niche in the market right now,” said Russell Hoss, an analyst with Roth Capital Partners in Newport Beach, Calif., who does not own Jos. A. Bank shares. “They really have come in and filled a void.”

Jos. A. Bank reported net income of $2.9 million, or 38 cents per share for the third quarter, up from $1.9 million, or 26 cents per share for the comparable quarter last year.

Despite the 53 percent increase in net income, shares have lagged well below the 52-week high of $47 set in August.

Analysts said some investors have been scared off by Jos. A. Bank’s inventory level, which was 40 percent higher in the third quarter than at the comparable point last year. The company’s long-term debt rose from $16 million to $48.1 million.

The company has between $35 million and $40 million available under a $75 million revolving credit facility, and has the ability to increase that credit to $125 million, officials said last month.

Mr. Hoss said fears over Jos. A. Bank’s inventory and debt have been unfounded.

The debt, he said, is not unusually high and will be offset by increasing sales, and inventories are likely to shrink after the holidays.

Indeed, many analysts appear unconcerned and say the company is underpriced. Five of the six securities analysts that cover the company have the stock listed as a “buy” or better.

Jos. A. Bank is in the middle of an aggressive growth plan, having opened 50 stores in the United States this year. The company plans to open between 50 and 75 more in 2004. It now has 210 stores in 35 states and the District.

“They have a nice top-line growth rate,” Mr. Hoss said. “I think the company is firing from all cylinders.”

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