ROST ROST
Q4 2012 Earnings Call Transcript
Transcript Call Date 03/21/2013

Operator: Good morning, and welcome to the Ross Stores Fourth Quarter and Fiscal Year 2012 Earnings Release Conference Call. The call will begin with prepared comments by management followed by a question-and-answer session.

Before we get started on behalf of Ross Stores, I would like to note that the comments made on this call will contain forward-looking statements regarding expectations about future growth and financial results, including sales and earnings forecasts and other matters that are based on the Company's current forecast of aspects of its future business. These forward-looking statements are subject to risks and uncertainties that could cause actual results to differ materially from historical performance or current expectations. Risk factors are included in today's press release and the Company's fiscal 2011 Form 10-K, fiscal 2012 Form 10-Qs and fiscal 2012 and 2013 form 8-Ks on file with the SEC.

Now, I'd like to turn the call over to Michael Balmuth, Vice Chairman and Chief Executive Officer.

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: Good morning. Joining me on our call today are Norman Ferber, Chairman of the Board; Michael O'Sullivan, President and Chief Operating Officer; Gary Cribb, Executive Vice President, Stores and Loss Prevention; John Call, Group Senior Vice President and Chief Financial Officer; Michael Hartshorn, Senior Vice President and Deputy Chief Financial Officer and Connie Wong, Director of Investor Relations.

We will begin with a review of our fourth quarter and 2012 performance, followed by our outlook for 2013. Afterwards, we'll be happy to respond to any questions you may have.

We are pleased with the record sales and earnings we delivered in the fourth quarter and 2012 fiscal year, especially considering they were achieved on top of strong multi-year gains.

Results for both periods benefitted from our ongoing ability to deliver compelling bargains on a wide assortment of exciting name brand fashions for the family and the home to today's value-focused consumers.

Earnings per share for the 14 weeks ended February 2, 2013 grew to $1.07, up from $0.85 for the 13 weeks ended January 28, 2012. For the 53 weeks ended February 2, 2013, earnings per share were $3.53 compared to $2.86 for the 52 weeks ended January 28, 2012. Both the quarter and the fiscal year included per share benefit of approximately $0.10 from the 53rd week.

Net earnings for the 2012 fourth quarter were $236.6 million, up from $192 million in the prior year, while fiscal 2012 net earnings grew to $786.8 million compared to $657.2 million in fiscal 2011. Sales for the 14 weeks ended February 2, 2013 grew 15% to $2.761 billion with comparable store sales up 5% on top of a 7% increase in the fourth quarter of 2011. For the 53-week fiscal year ended February 2, 2013, sales increased 13% to $9.721 billion, with the same-store sales gain of 6% compared to a 5% rise in 2011.

For the quarter and the full year Juniors was the best performing merchandise category, while geographically the strength was broad-based. Earnings before interest and taxes for the 2012 fourth quarter grew to 13.7% of sales up from 13.0% in the fourth quarter of 2011. For fiscal 2012, operating margin rose to a record 13.1%, a gain of 75 basis points on top of an 85 basis point increase in fiscal 2011. Profit margins for both the quarter and the full year mainly benefited from higher merchandise gross margin, leverage on operating expenses from the strong gains in same-store sales, and the impact of the 53rd week.

John, will provide some additional color on these operating margin trends in a few minutes. As we ended 2012, total consolidated inventories were up 7% compared to the prior year, while pack-away levels were about 47% of total inventories, down from 49% at the end of 2011. On average in-store inventories were down approximately 5% during 2012. Our expansion program remained on track during the year with the net addition of 54 Ross and dd's DISCOUNTS.

We continued our growth in new markets which accounted for about one-third of these new store openings. We are pleased to report that dd's DISCOUNTS also delivered another year of solid gains in sales and operating profitability in 2012. Like Ross dd's continues to benefit from our ability to offer a wide assortment of terrific bargains, while also operating the business on reduced inventory levels.

Now, let's turn to our financial condition. Operating cash flow has provided the resources to make capital investments in new store growth and infrastructure as well as fund our ongoing stock repurchase and dividend programs.

In January 2013, our Board of Directors approved a new program authorizing up to $1.1 billion to be used to repurchase shares of our common stock over the next two years through fiscal 2014. This represents a 22% increase over the prior two-year $900 million program that was completed in January of 2013. The Board also raised our quarterly cash dividend to $0.17 per share, up 21% on top of a 27% increase in the prior year.

The growth of our stock repurchase and dividend programs has been driven by the significant amounts of cash our business generates after self-funding store growth and other capital needs. We have repurchased stock as planned every year since 1993, and this is the 19th consecutive increase in our quarterly cash dividend. This consistent record reflects our unwavering commitment to enhancing stockholder value and returns.

Now John will provide further color on our fourth quarter and fiscal 2012 results and details on our first quarter and fiscal year 2013 guidance.

John G. Call - Group SVP and CFO: Thank you, Michael. Our 5% comparable store sales gain in the fourth quarter was driven by low-single digit growth in a number of transactions, combined with a mid-single digit increase in the size of the average basket. Operating margin grew by about 70 basis points in the quarter to 13.7%. Cost of goods sold improved by about 55 basis points, benefiting from a 40 basis point increase in merchandise margin, 35 basis points from leverage on occupancy, and 10 and 5 basis points, respectively, from lower freight and shortage accrual. These improvements were partially offset by 25 basis points, mainly from the timing of incentive costs, and 10 basis points from increased distribution expenses due to timing of pack-away related costs.

Selling, general and administrative costs for the quarter declined about 15 basis points, driven by 25 basis points of leverage on store operating expenses, partially offset by 10 basis points due to the timing of incentive accruals and higher legal costs.

As Michael mentioned, for fiscal 2012, operating margin rose to a record 13.1%, up 75 basis points over the prior year. Total cost of goods sold improved by about 40 basis points, driven by a 40 basis point gain in merchandise gross margin, 25 basis points of leverage on occupancy, and 15 basis points in lower distribution costs.

These favorable items were partially offset by 25 basis points in higher buying costs, 10 basis points in increased freight expense, and 5 basis points in higher shortage accrual related to the year-over-year third quarter true-up in our shrink reserve. Selling, general and administrative costs for the full year improved by 35 basis points, primarily due to leverage on store operating expenses from the 6% increase in comparable sales.

Turning to our stock buyback program, during the fourth quarter, we repurchased 2.1 million shares for a total purchase price of $116 million. For the 2012 fiscal year, we repurchased 7.5 million shares for a total price of $450 million, which, as Michael mentioned, completed the $900 million program authorized in early 2011. We added 74 net new stores in fiscal 2012, ending the year with 1,091 Ross Dress for Less locations in 33 states and 108 dd's DISCOUNTS in eight states.

Now, I'll spend a few moments summarizing the undermined assumptions that support the 2013 EPS targets we communicated in early February. A more detailed version is available in the written transcript of our January sales release recorded comments on our website. Our fiscal year 2013 earnings per share forecast of $3.65 to $3.80 was based on comparable store sales of a forecasted increase 1% to 2% on top of a strong 6% gain in 2012. Total sales debt are projected to grow 4% to 5% for the 52 weeks ending February 1, 2014, compared to the 53 weeks ended January 2, 2013. The year-over-year increase in total revenues is being affected by the 53rd week, which added approximately $149 million in sales in 2012 fourth quarter and fiscal year.

We are planning to add approximately 60 new Ross and 20 dd's DISCOUNTS locations, with about one-third of these stores projected to open in the same new markets, we entered in 2011 and 2012, as usual these numbers do not reflect our plans to close or relocate about 10 older stores.

Our fiscal 2013 EBIT target is 12.7% to 12.9% compared to 13.1% in 2012 which benefitted by about 20 basis points from the 53rd week. The same-store sales performed in line with our forecast for 1% to 2% increase, we would expect some slight deleveraging of expenses while merchandise gross margin is targeted to be relatively flat versus 2012.

Net interest expense is expected to be about $1 million. Our tax rate is planned to be approximately 38% and we expect average diluted shares outstanding of about 217 million.

Capital expenditures in 2013 are forecast to increase to approximately $670 million, up from $424 million in 2012.

In addition to supporting our ongoing investments in new and existing stores, we will building two new distribution centers over the next two years. During 2013, we also expect to buyout the lease for one of our existing distribution facilities, relocate our corporate headquarters and complete construction of a new data center.

Our first quarter guidance that we issued at the beginning of February was for same-store sales to be up 1% to 2%. We also projected earnings per share to be in the range of $1 to $1.04, compared to $0.93 in the first quarter of 2012.

Earlier this month, we reported a slight decline of 1% in February same-store sales, which we believe was mainly due to the delay in income tax refunds. With sales improving as the month progressed, we reiterated our guidance for first quarter EPS of $1 to $1.04 and same-store sales that were projected to be down 1% to 2% in March and up 5% to 6% in April. This monthly forecast reflects a shift in Easter holiday, is on top of last year's strong same-store sales gain of 10% in March and 7% in April.

Finally, as noted in today's press release, beginning with the second quarter of fiscal 2013, we will no longer report monthly sales. Quarterly comparable store sales will be provided with the regularly scheduled earnings releases and conference calls. Reporting sales quarterly aligns us with a majority of other retailers who have already adopted this practice while also increasing the focus on longer-term performance.

Now, I'll turn the call back to Michael for some closing comments.

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: Thank you, John. Again, we are pleased with our strong 2012 performance. Looking ahead, in order to operate successfully in today's very uncertain macroeconomic and political environment, we will focus on the execution of our proven off-price model that has enabled us to perform well in a variety of business climates.

Investing in our merchandise organization is still our number one priority. Experience shows that this is the key to increasing our access to the best name brand bargains in the marketplace while further expanding our very large vendor base.

To enhance sales and maximize gross margin, we will also continue to operate our stores with lower inventories with selling store levels planned down in the low single-digit range for 2013. In addition, our ongoing focus on fine-tuning our systems and processes to plan and allocate at a much more detailed level remains more important than ever today. This is especially true as we continue to grow in new markets and operate our stores with less inventory. We also continue to implement numerous productivity enhancements and efficiencies throughout the business. These initiatives are driving down cost in our distribution centers, stores organization, and back-office functions. To sum up, we will stay intently focused on our core off-price mission of offering compelling discounts on wide assortments of name-brand fashions to today's increasingly value focused shoppers. We know that delivering great bargains will always be the key to maximizing our opportunities for growth in sales and profits, over both the short and the long-term.

At this point, we would like to open up the call and respond to any questions you might have.

Transcript Call Date 03/21/2013

Operator: Lorraine Hutchinson, Bank of America Merrill Lynch.

Lorraine Hutchinson - Bank of America Merrill Lynch: Just wanted an update on the new store performance that you're seeing in some of these new markets, how are those sales trending? Also, can you just comment on the number of new markets that you'll enter in 2013?

Michael O'Sullivan - President and COO: It's Michael O'Sullivan. I'll take that. Overall, we're very happy with what we've seen in new markets. As a reminder, we first opened stores in new markets in the end of 2011. So, they're relatively recent but the performance since then, we've been very happy with. In terms of additional new markets, we're actually not planning any additional new markets in 2013. We are going to be opening additional stores in the new markets that we've now entered over the past couple of years, but no additional markets.

Operator: Daniel Hofkin, William Blair.

Daniel Hofkin - William Blair: Just I guess a couple of questions in terms of merchandise categories departments. Can you talk about where you see opportunities potentially for improved performance relative to what you are already doing, and how you are kind of progressing against those improvement targets so far? And then my second question relates to store growth. Would you expect this number of stores to kind of be similar in an absolute sense such that the growth rate might trickle down a little bit?

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: The biggest opportunity for improvement within our merchandise departments is really where we struggled on the back half of last year, which was in our home business. And I would say what we are seeing so far and the changes we put in place were on track to see our improvement as we move through the year.

John G. Call - Group SVP and CFO: Dan, along your second question about the number of new stores. I think at least for the next few years you should assume that the number of new stores will be approximately the same level as we have – we are planning to open this year.

Operator: Ike Burochow, Sterne Agee.

Ike Burochow - Sterne Agee: Can you guys help us think about your inventory levels right now? Do you feel comfortable with your apparel merchandise assortment today, given the unseasonable weather outside? Do you see much risk if the weather continues at this pace and doesn't turn for another several weeks or so? And then also, what is your expectation for pack-away as a percent of total inventory as the year progresses? Just curious.

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: We are pretty comfortable with our inventory levels as it relates to seasonal merchandise. For years, we've been pushing it back based on how the seasonality seems to be moving back, and so we find ourselves in a relatively comfortable spot, couple of markets maybe, small level of concern, but nothing material.

John G. Call - Group SVP and CFO: And then, Ike, as far as pack-away levels are concerned, obviously, they are opportunistic in terms of what bargains we see out there. But from a planning perspective, we presume similar levels to what we had last year.

Operator: Kimberly Greenberger, Morgan Stanley.

Heather Balsky - Morgan Stanley: This is actually Heather Balsky calling for Kimberly. We were just wondering how did home performed in the fourth quarter, and how do you think that compares versus last year? And what are any strategies you have in place for home in 2013?

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: Home (indiscernible) the company in the fourth quarter, and our strategies going forward are really to improve the executional mistakes we made. We've made some organizational adjustments, but we've made some executional mistakes within our assortments. So this is a year of getting back to basics in that business.

Heather Balsky - Morgan Stanley: Do you have any examples of execution issues that you kind of are looking to improve?

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: Just the assortments were substandard, and so we've adjusted that.

Operator: Brian Tunick, J.P. Morgan.

Brian Tunick - JPMorgan: Just three quick questions. I guess, first on dd's, maybe if could just help us understand the earnings contribution you saw this year, and maybe what you are seeing from a maturity curve of how your older dd's have been ramping? Second question is sort of – as you look at the mid-tier department stores or the discounters where you think you've taken market share, what are you seeing in terms of pricing? I know you like to maintain that delta, so just wondering what you're seeing from a market share perspective. The third thing, if John could just give us maybe what he thinks a normal CapEx number could look like in 2014.

Michael O'Sullivan - President and COO: So, on the first question you asked regarding dd's, so dd's has been profitable for the last couple of years and has been making a contribution to our overall earnings during that period. We expect the same in 2013, in fact little more fuel growth in the earnings contribution. But with all that said, dd's is still a relatively small part of the business, and therefore really isn’t material. So, it's making a contribution, but it's very small.

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: Regardless to where we're taking share from, I think we're grabbing it from a bunch of people, but really based on the more recent mid-tier results. It is more mid-tier, and it looks like within the mid-tier it's totally hard to isolate, but clearly one retailer has had a bigger drop, so we're probably getting a little more share from there, but not sure. What we're seeing about pricing around the horn is nothing wildly aggressive overall versus what we would expect at this time of the year. Things really normally heat up as we get closer to Easter. So, probably I could better answer that on the next call.

John G. Call - Group SVP and CFO: Brian, as it relates to CapEx, as we mentioned it in the comments, we're planning $670 million in CapEx this year, which is a peak level for us. 2014, we expect that level to come back down to slightly more normalized levels around what we spent in 2012, and then descend from there going forward as we complete the build out of the distribution centers.

Operator: Michael Baker, Deutsche Bank.

Michael Baker - Deutsche Bank: So, I wanted to ask about February, the miss there, and how you have confidence that it was related to the income tax issue. And I guess what gives you confidence that you'll still make your quarterly estimates with February being a little bit weaker and the weather in March presumably colder in most of your markets?

John G. Call - Group SVP and CFO: Mike, in terms of February, I think as we announced couple of weeks ago, February's comp is minus 1, which is really just at the lower end of our guidance. Again, as we – the color we provided in that release was that we saw some slowness in the business really at the beginning of the month, and then things picked up as the month progressed. We believe that that slowness was driven by delay in tax refunds, and that's why things started to pick up as the month progressed.

Michael Baker - Deutsche Bank: And as it relates to March, I know you don't comment into quarter typically. But with a lot of noise around the income taxes and payroll taxes and weather and all that, I guess, the question is, what gives you the confidence that you'll still hit the quarterly numbers with February at the low end?

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: I think really it will just come from how our business accelerated as we moved through the month of February, and we wouldn't be able to comment on anything further beyond the end of February.

Michael Baker - Deutsche Bank: If I can ask one more. Could you flesh out the comment on maybe some pockets of inventory where there is a concern? I presume that means you have a lot spring product that didn't sell because of weather in some market. Was that what that was…?

John G. Call - Group SVP and CFO: Actually I believe I said the opposite. My belief is – our belief is that we are well positioned with our spring inventory, okay. There is only a couple of places where I have even a slight, very slight concern, but really as a whole, not at all, and those what I said, it was really immaterial.

Michael Baker - Deutsche Bank: I just wanted to clarify that, but I just heard it’s immaterial. But just for my own knowledge, will you say a slight concern, is that too much inventory or too little inventory, I guess, is the question.

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: You know something, I probably have situations of both, okay, and we always do. So, it's not any real difference from our normal position entering the spring season, where there are weather issues every year both directions in the first few months of spring.

Operator: Marni Shapiro, Retail Tracker.

Marni Shapiro - Retail Tracker: I have a really quick store question. Have you guys in the course of leases coming up and looking across your fleet, can you talk about on average how many stores you've been closing every year, renovating every year and what the plan is for this year and the next couple of years?

John G. Call - Group SVP and CFO: So I'll take that. So this past year, we said in the comments, we look to close about 10 stores that are older age buildings and that number moves around based on opportunities. As far as refurbs go – and on average, we look to about that same number as we move forward with closures, as far as remodels are concerned. We last year did – finished in the first quarter, the chain relative to the sign program that we implemented (indiscernible) and then we're always looking at our buildings to ensure that we have the right experience for our customer and we'll continue to see iterations as we move forward.

Marni Shapiro - Retail Tracker: So, as I think about, so the 10 stores is about average go forward, and at this point, you feel the change, very healthy. The sign program was completed, there's no big expense or a push going forward over the next year or so?

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: That's a pretty average number as leases age and as demographics shift we are constantly looking at those, but we don't have certainly have any large exposure though the chain's positioned well.

Operator: David Mann, Johnson Rice & Company.

David Mann - Johnson Rice & Company: A couple of questions. In terms of micro merchandising, can you give us your view on where we are in terms of – where you are in terms of driving benefits to margin from that initiative perhaps what inning we're in?

Michael O'Sullivan - President and COO: So, David, as you know we've had our micro merchandising systems and processes in place for two or three years now and I think we said early on that, as we gather more history, gather more data, those systems and processes become more effective and that's kind of what we've experienced here over the past few years. We think there's still some opportunity with our micro merchandising tools. I think Michael had mentioned in his remarks that we're trimming inventories again this year, and that's at least partially enabled by the micro merchandising tools that we have. Now, in terms of sort of next generation what can we do, we are also looking at opportunities there in terms of making further improvements and enhancements to our micro-merchandising and more broadly to our planning systems.

David Mann - Johnson Rice & Company: In terms of SG&A I think in the past you've talked about the ability to lever at a 1 to 2 comp. It sounds like this year to be slight deleveraging. Can you just talk a little bit about the changes there and are there any cost saving opportunities that you could put in place to maintain that historical leverage point?

John G. Call - Group SVP and CFO: David, as we look to 2013 on a 1 to 2 comp, we do delever occupancy a bit so it is not necessarily G&A, G&A tend to be – come pretty close to leveraging G&A, but occupancy was a bigger drag from an expense standpoint.

David Mann - Johnson Rice & Company: And then one last question on your businesses in January and February, especially dd's with the lower income customer. Was that more adversely affected or did you see more adverse effect from the tax issues that you called out and did dd's pretty much recover by the end of February as you would have expected?

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: dd's experienced a similar pattern to the pattern we described for Ross but (slowness) happened earlier in the month and then started to pick up as the month progressed.

Operator: Oliver Chen, Citigroup.

Oliver Chen - Citigroup: Regarding the comp forecast in the plus 1 to 2, it sounds like you've been having a great run rate with the average dollar sales trending up. So, what's happening in terms of that forecast? Are your expectations that traffic is the offset to basket and if you could just give us some more color around we'd appreciate it.

John G. Call - Group SVP and CFO: So in terms of kind of a dollar basket versus traffic, the dollar basket has grown a bit. We see that traffic was a real main driver for comps through fiscal 2012. As we started, February traffic was down, but picked up as we went through the model.

Oliver Chen - Citigroup: So throughout the year, is your expectation that the traffic could weigh on the comp to offset benefits from the mix?

John G. Call - Group SVP and CFO: We think that traffic should drive the comp. I mean, we're not – from a pricing standpoint, I think we're relatively flat to slightly up, but traffic should drive the comps.

Oliver Chen - Citigroup: Then, you've also talked about fortifying the merchandise organization. Is that coming in the form of incremental hiring or what's the strategy for that to happen?

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: It's coming – some incremental hiring, some splitting of businesses that we have and we have people internally that we move up, and this is something that we've got built into our forecast and we've been doing for multiple years, but it's built into our forecast this year.

Oliver Chen - Citigroup: Final question, trade-down. Have you guys been – how would you speak to us strategically with respect to the customer environment? Do you feel like your concept is benefiting from customers trading down into your concepts? On the flip side are there lots trading out given all the consumer pressure?

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: I think over the last several years, the customer has been a trade-down customer that has come to our doors and we've satisfied them. So, I think actually for our business that's been a good thing. The second part of your question was…?

Oliver Chen - Citigroup: Regarding your average unit retail being more modest, do you feel like there's also then customers that have been trading kind of out of being able to even afford your products as well.

John G. Call - Group SVP and CFO: I would say that's hard to measure Oliver. Clearly the results have been good, but difficult to measure trade down versus follow out. Clearly, we have more traffic in the stores that increase the comp.

Operator: Jeff Stein, Northcoast Research.

Jeffrey Stein - Northcoast Research: Just a few questions, first of all, wondering if you could help us understand roughly what percent of your apparel mix was targeted at the junior customer or what percent you generated with the junior customer in 2012 versus '11?

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: That's not something we would feel comfortable disclosing at this time.

Jeffrey Stein - Northcoast Research: Can you give us just roughly what kind of growth in comp you saw from the junior category last year?

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: It's considerably higher than the rest of the apparel.

Jeffrey Stein - Northcoast Research: Just kind of wondering, with the weather having been the way it is, it sounds like your inventories are in pretty good shape, but we're also hearing a lot of bigger box retailers have been cancelling orders and I'm wondering if you are seeing perhaps greater than normal opportunities within the categories you play in at this point in spring as a result of those cancellations.

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: I think I would answer it is a very good buying time.

Jeffrey Stein - Northcoast Research: I didn't catch that.

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: It's a very good time to be a buyer (indiscernible).

Jeffrey Stein - Northcoast Research: One quick question for John, wondering how much the extra week added to your SG&A and how it affected gross margin in the fourth quarter?

John G. Call - Group SVP and CFO: In the fourth quarter the benefit was probably about 65 basis points to the total EBIT line and we haven't that out between G&A (indiscernible).

Operator: Laura Champine, Canaccord Genuity Securities.

Laura Champine - Canaccord Genuity Securities: Could you give us of the 80 stores that you plan on launching this year what percentage go to West Coast, Midwest and the South East, respectively?

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: Sorry, Laura, could you repeat that question. You broke up at the beginning?

Laura Champine - Canaccord Genuity Securities: Sure. I am just looking for the regional split of the 80 new stores that you are launching this year West Coast versus Midwest versus South East?

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: So, of those 80 stores about a third will be in what we call the new markets which is essentially the Midwest markets. There will be a handful in the South East, not very many and then the balance will be our existing markets.

Laura Champine - Canaccord Genuity Securities: Any sign at all yet of cannibalization when you put a store in California?

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: No, not really. Obviously, if we put a store very close to an existing store then we might see a little bit of cannibalization, but it typically last for a few months and then within a year had original stores back to where it was. But overall I think where your question really getting at is are we saturated in any markets? And the answer is, no, we are not. We still have plenty of opportunities in our existing markets.

Operator: Roxanne Meyer, UBS.

Roxanne Meyer - UBS: My question is on your strategy to open two new DC. I was just wondering if you could elaborate on that strategy. Where those DCs are going to be located, any benefits that you think you're going to gain from those DCs and just how we should think about the return on this investment?

Michael O'Sullivan - President and COO: So, Roxanne, the last time we opened DC it was about five years ago in Southern California, and we're just getting to a point in our growth where we need to add capacity – and we need to add capacity on the West Coast and on the East Coast which is why we're opening two DCs. We are staggering them, so rather than trying to open them both at the same time, one will happen next year and the other a year after. In terms of benefits, obviously there's a capacity benefit. It enables us to continue to support our growth and obviously, we expect the new DCs to be very productive once we scale them up. So, yeah, we should see some benefit from those long-term.

Operator: Rob Wilson, Tiburon Research.

Rob Wilson - Tiburon Research: John, in your SEC filings, you have a disclosure for merchandise purchase obligations, and that number has been increasing year-over-year, the last three quarters, and I'm just curious as to why that number would be materially increasing versus the prior year?

John G. Call - Group SVP and CFO: That does reflect increased purchases. It could reflect pack-away buys. It could reflect increased store size for all those reasons.

Rob Wilson - Tiburon Research: Does it reflect maybe more made-for merchandise in your stores today than…?

John G. Call - Group SVP and CFO: Not necessarily. It might have to a timing, but clearly as the need increases, we increase those obligations.

Rob Wilson - Tiburon Research: Have you ever disclosed or do you disclose your made for, merchandise mix?

John G. Call - Group SVP and CFO: No we don't.

Rob Wilson - Tiburon Research: One final question. Why would interest expense only be $1 million versus a much higher number last year?

John G. Call - Group SVP and CFO: Sure, with the building of our distribution centers, a lot of interest has capitalized into building those.

Operator: Alex Fuhrman, Piper Jaffray.

Alex Fuhrman - Piper Jaffray: Wanted to talk a little bit about some of the competitive forces you're seeing out there, especially with one of the other big off price competitors making a move into e-commerce recently, curious to how that's changing, more conversations with the brands that you both sell and also how that affects really how you're going after your customers from a marketing standpoint, given this introduction to e-commerce coming from your competitor?

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: Our conversations with our vendors are really between us and our vendors. So, it really doesn't – I wouldn't elaborate, but I would not expect that it's changing much of our conversation anyway, but I wouldn't get too much detail on that. Then on the other part of your question Alex, marketing, so most of the online activity that we see, we had growth in price is actually at very high price points, higher price points than we compete in. So, in terms of how we're marking to our customer really isn't affected. Our customer is looking for a bargain and our marketing focusses on reminding them that if they come to Ross (indiscernible)

Operator: Richard Jaffe, Stifel Nicolaus & Company.

Richard Jaffe - Stifel Nicolaus & Company: Just a question on dd and Ross. As dd becomes much more of its own business is there an opportunity to share resources whether it is vendors or pack-away or buying power with Ross stores. Is there any kind of cross over or are they really very independent silos?

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: Very independent silos, occasionally some cross over but separate buying organization.

Richard Jaffe - Stifel Nicolaus & Company: And then separate pack-away as well they both had their own…?

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: Always separate.

Operator: Patrick McKeever, MKM Partners.

Patrick McKeever - MKM Partners: Just I guess a couple of quick up to questions that have already been asked in a broad way. But on the new distribution centers will that involve any change in your distribution approach. I think you currently distribute all distribution centers – distribute to all stores will that change with the DCs in different parts of the country and the growth that you've seen in your store base into new markets that sort of thing?

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: Nothing dramatic, Patrick. Obviously, we tweak things here and there. So, even with our 15 DCs there are some product areas that we only process in one of two DCs. So, that kind of thing where it make sense to sort of tweak the model we do but nothing radical in terms of the overall approach.

Patrick McKeever - MKM Partners: But it is still makes sense even as you've grown, let's say into the Midwest to distribute to all stores from all distribution centers?

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: Yes, that's right.

Patrick McKeever - MKM Partners: Then, just a quick one on – actually, I don't think this question has been asked yet, but on Penney's, are you seeing any difference in performance from your stores that are near Penney's versus those that are not so near?

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: No. we've looked at that several times over the past 12 months, and what we found is that stores that are near JCPenney are doing very well and stores that are not near JCPenney are doing very well. I mean, all of our stores did very well last year. I think what that tells us is that, sure, we're almost certainly getting some kind of benefit, but there are many other things that are going on that are also driving our comp.

Operator: Evren Kopelman, Wells Fargo.

Evren Kopelman - Wells Fargo: I have a modeling question. Some of the retailers have talked about with this year with extra week, every quarter starting a week later. People are seeing different effects in terms of especially in Q1 that late early May week being a different size than the early February week that's being dropped off. Is that impacting your model and what kind of impact, two, and three, as well if you could touch on that.

John G. Call - Group SVP and CFO: It impacts us somewhat but not enough to comment on. I mean, we are forecasting 1 or 2 comps for the year, 1 to 2 this quarter, so not really a material impact.

Evren Kopelman - Wells Fargo: Then, secondly we're seeing some footwear trends (indiscernible) sneakers taking hold. Have you seen any pickup in your footwear category?

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: Our footwear business has been strong for a while and so, I'm sure that's a piece of it, but our footwear business has been strong.

Operator: Mark Montagna, Avondale Partners.

Mark Montagna - Avondale Partners: I just have a question about your home department. It sounds like it was a little bit of a laggard last year versus the apparel. Can you just walk us through what transitions you made regarding the home department last year, perhaps from a buying standpoint and what your anticipation is for this year, when you think that, that might be on track with the standards that you would expect?

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: We made some actually organizational changes in there during the course of the year. We've also added a few more senior level merchants as we started this year and with those changes and other changes we've made specifically on mix within our assortment by classification, we would expect as we move through the year that our assortments (indiscernible) our expectation would be within our racks.

Mark Montagna - Avondale Partners: Do you think that would take a full year to get the transition or given that your off priced and you're much closer to need that perhaps it maybe takes half a year, trying to get a better gauge as to…

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: Actually home is really less. There's really more upfront product purchased in home than there is anywhere else in our store. So, it is further our – it is to further our business. And I have been saying close to a year is appropriate.

Mark Montagna - Avondale Partners: And then when you gave the monthly guidance for first quarter back on February 7th were you factoring in tax refund delays at that point?

John G. Call - Group SVP and CFO: We were factoring in a number of factors, a lot of uncertainty, that's why we gave a range, and why until February we (indiscernible) issues we knew there were some uncertainty out there. And as much as we are able to sort of take into account those different areas of uncertainty our guidance try to capture it.

Mark Montagna - Avondale Partners: And then just the last question in fourth quarter it seems as though with the mall retailers being more promotional than planned it sounds like yourself and TJ and the other authorized retailers were able to maintain price. So, I just want to verify that that was accurate that you did not have to stoop lower on promotions or markdowns, I guess. And would that really indicate that off-prices gaining pricing power and the price gap between off-price and traditional retailers maybe is shrinking and that it can be maintained at a smaller gap?

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: I would say that our margins were fine, we didn't have do anything to adjust our pricing to meet the more promotional environment. And your assumption or your hypothesis, I would say is probably true.

Operator: I am showing there are no further questions. At this time, I will turn it back over to management for any closing comments.

Michael Balmuth - Vice Chairman and CEO: Thank you for joining us today and for your interest in Ross Stores. Have a great day.

Operator: Ladies and gentlemen, this concludes today's conference call. You may now disconnect.