Mall-based apparel retailer Buckle (NYSE:BKE) recently closed out its fiscal year by reporting very respectable, low double-digit growth trends. The profit improvement was slightly below trend given the impressive decade of growth the company has posted, but an investment in the Buckle's stock still represents one of the best ways to combine growth with stability in the retail industry. For more, see Earning Forecasts: A Primer.

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Full Year Recap
Sales increased 11.9% to $1.1 billion. Comparable store sales advanced a very healthy 8.4% and did not include the benefit of a 25% jump in online sales. New store openings made up the remainder of the sales growth. Gross margins were about flat and operating expense growth of 11.5% slightly lagged the top-line growth rate. As a result of the ability to leverage the strong sales growth, operating income grew 12.1% to $236.3 million. Moderate income tax expenses allowed net income to grow 12.5% to $151.5 million, or $3.20 per diluted share.

The company didn't provide cash flow details in its earnings press release but did provide balance sheet data that detailed total cash of $139.4 million, or approximately $2.94 per diluted share. This also represented a net cash position as Buckle ended another year without any long-term debt. To know more about income statements, read Understanding The Income Statement.

Valuation and Outlook
2011 was slightly below the historical trend in terms of profit growth, and analysts currently expect a moderation in both sales and earnings for the coming year. However, the forward P/E is still quite reasonable at 13. In contrast, Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE:ANF) trades at 12 times, Aeropostale (NYSE:ARO) is at 15 and American Eagle Outfitters (NYSE:AEO) at 14.

For 2012, analysts expect sales growth of nearly 8% and total sales close to $1.2 billion. They collectively project earnings of $3.41 per share for annual growth of around 7%.

The Bottom Line
Basically, Buckle trades at the same forward multiple as Gap (NYSE:GPS), which hasn't grown its top line all that much over the past decade. Yet Buckle has posted one of the more impressive growth stories in retailing. Over the past decade, average sales are up in excess of 9% annually, which management has been able to leverage into annual profit gains close to 15%. The past five and three year averages are even stronger, with mid-teens annual sales growth and earnings up more than 20% over this same period.

In the retailing space, Buckle continues to represent one of the most conservative ways to gain industry exposure. With only 431 stores across the United States, it has plenty of room to expand. For additional reading, check out 5 Must-Have Metrics For Value Investors.

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At the time of writing, Ryan C. Fuhrmann did not own shares in any of the companies mentioned in this article.

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