Hibbett Sporting Goods shares were up 6% for the week to close at $24.40 on Friday as the small-market sporting goods operator beat both the Thomson First Call consensus estimate of 40 cents a share and HIBB’s prior guidance of 39 cents to 41 cents a share.

Net income for Q4 increased 28.8% to $4.6 million compared with a year-earlier profit of $3.6 million, or 35 cents per share. Excluding the gain on the sale of a leasehold interest, earnings per share in the fourth quarter were 42 cents.

Comparable store sales increased 2.4%, with strength coming from footwear and apparel.

Footwear sales were up in mid single digits led by basketball and Nike and classics-oriented styles from Reebok and K-Swiss.

Under Armour and college and pro-licensed products drove the Apparel category up in the mid single digits as well. Lacking any popular big-ticket items as in prior years, the Equipment category was once again soft, comping down in the low singles.

Average inventories were down 6% on a per door basis. Apparel inventory was down 14% after HIBB eliminated 25% of apparel SKUs.

Hibbett opened 16 new stores and closed one store during the fourth quarter, bringing the store base to 371 stores. HIBB plans to increase net store count by 60 stores in fiscal 2004.

The company also issued EPS guidance for the fiscal 2004 first quarter ended May 3, 2003 of approximately 48 cents to 50 cents.

Guidance for fiscal 2004 earnings is estimated at approximately $1.63 – $1.65 per diluted share. First Call currently expects the company to earn 47 cents a share in the first quarter and $1.64 a share in fiscal 2004.
HIBB sees comps to up 3% to 4% for each quarter.

>>> Not much to say here as the company points to operational performance as its foundation and it continues to deliver on the mission…