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Burlington Stores (NYSE:BURL)
Q4 2017 Earnings Conference Call
March 8, 2018 8:30 a.m. ET


  • Prepared Remarks
  • Questions and Answers
  • Call Participants

Prepared Remarks:


Good day, ladies and gentlemen, and welcome to the Burlington Stores fourth-quarter fiscal 2017 earnings conference call. [Operator's instructions] As a reminder, this conference is being recorded. It is now my pleasure to turn the call over to David Glick.

David Glick -- Vice President Investor Relations

Thank you, operator, and good morning, everyone. We appreciate everyone's participation in today's conference call to discuss Burlington's 2017 fourth fiscal quarter operating results. Our presenters today are Tom Kingsbury, our chairman and chief executive officer, and Mark Katz, chief financial officer and principal. Before I turn the call over to Tom, I would like to inform listeners that this call may not be transcribed, recorded, or broadcast without our express permission.

A replay of the call will be available until March 22, 2018. We take no responsibility for inaccuracies that may appear in transcripts of this call by third parties. Our remarks and the Q&A that follows are copyrighted today by Burlington Stores. Remarks made on this call concerning future expectations, events, strategies, objectives, trends, or projected financial results are subject to certain risks and uncertainties.

Actual results may differ materially from those that are projected in such forward-looking statements. Such risks and uncertainties include those that are described in the company's 10-K for fiscal 2016 and in other filings with the SEC, all of which are expressly incorporated herein by reference. Please note that the financial results and expectations we discuss today are on a continuing-operations basis. Reconciliations of the non-GAAP measures we discuss today to GAAP measures are included in today's press release.

Finally, it should also be noted that unless otherwise indicated, the non-GAAP results we discuss today are reported on a 13-week and 52-week basis respectively. Moreover, our adjusted net income and adjusted earnings per share for both the fourth quarter and full fiscal year of 2017 exclude any estimated impact from the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, which was enacted in December 2017. Any estimated impact triggered by the enactment of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act on our financial results, including the impact or rate reduction, changes in the deductibility of certain items, as well as the revaluation of deferred-tax liabilities are reflected in our GAAP net income and GAAP EPS results.Now, here is Tom.

Tom Kingsbury -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Thank you, David. Good morning, everyone. We are extremely pleased to report strong fourth-quarter results, driven by a robust 5.9% comparable-store sales increase, which is on top of a strong 4.6% increase in fiscal 2016. We passed several significant milestones in fiscal 2017, as we surpassed $6 billion in total sales, expanded our adjusted EBIT margin, or operating margin by 90 basis points to 8.6%, and achieved record-low aged inventory and record-high comparable-store inventory-turnover levels.

We remained focused on elevating our off-price operating model and expect our initiatives to enable us to continue our favorable momentum in fiscal 2018. Regarding the fourth quarter, on a 13-week basis, operating margin expanded by 50 basis points, a solid result driven by increased merchandise margin and SG&A leverage, which, combined with our overall strong sales increase of 10%, drove a 22% increase in adjusted earnings per share, significantly ahead of our guidance.Turning to highlights of the fourth quarter, all on a 13-week basis, this was our 20th consecutive quarter of positive comp-sales growth. Our comp-sales growth was driven primarily by an increase in traffic, our 12th quarterly traffic increase over the last 14 quarters. Inventory aged 91 days and older at year-end was down 26%, while comparable-store inventory turnover increased 10% during the fourth quarter.

We delivered a 20-basis-point expanse in gross margin while leveraging SG&A by 40 basis points, which drove a 50-basis-point increase in both adjusted EBITDA margin and operating margin, and adjusted earnings per share grew 22%. Our new-store performance is once again a highlight of our quarterly results. Our new and non-comp stores continued to outperform, contributing an incremental $79 million in sales in the fourth quarter. I want to remind everyone that this incremental-sales contribution was negatively impacted by approximately $25 million in lost sales from stores that were closed in the fourth quarter due to storm damage, as we anticipated.

Excluding that impact, new and non-comp stores contributed an incremental $104 million over the last year during the fourth quarter. These results underscore our confidence in our site selection and underwriting process as we increase the number of net new store openings in our smaller store format.Moving to category highlights, our top-performing businesses were all areas of home; beauty; men's sportswear; ladies' better sportswear; and men's, kids', and athletic shoes. It is important to note that we made great strides in the fourth quarter further de-weatherizing our business as non-cold-weather categories comped ahead of the chain average. Regarding geographic performance, the Southeast and Southwest performed above the chain average, while the Midwest posted a solid comparable-store sales results but was below the chain average.

Moreover, 26 out of 27 regions had a flat or positive comparable-store sales trend.Moving to inventory management, we're pleased once again with how our merchandising team managed our receipt flow in inventory, as we ended the quarter with comp-store inventories down 7% on top of a 9% decline last year. The fourth-quarter comp-store inventory turnover improved a strong 10% on top of last year's 13% improvement. Our merchandising and planning teams once again drove down our aged inventory levels, as inventory aged 91 days and older declined 26% as we focused on maintaining a fresh and exciting assortment for our customers. Pack-and-hold as a percent of our total inventory was 25% versus 23% a year ago, as we continued to capitalize on a favorable buying environment.

We see no change in the vibrancy of the marketplace for our buying teams and we are thrilled for the great assortment and amazing values that we continue to deliver to our customers. I am also pleased with the value that we continue to bring our shareholders as we repurchase approximately 458,000 shares of common stock during the fourth quarter for $52 million. At the end of the fourth quarter, we had $217 million remaining on the $300 million share-repurchase program authorized on August 16, 2017.Now, let me update you on our long-term strategic priorities, which continue to be focusing on driving comparable-store sales growth; expanding, modernizing, and optimizing our store fleet; and increasing our operating margins. First, with regard to driving comparable-store sales growth, our underlying strategies remain enhancing our assortments as we continue to improve our execution of the off-price model with particular focus on underpenetrated businesses, building our marketing initiatives to ensure we are continuing to engage both new and existing customers and improving the store experience for our customers.

As our fourth-quarter results demonstrate, we're making significant progress, increasing our underpenetrated growth categories, particularly home and beauty. These growth opportunities will allow us to continue to de-weather our business, building a long-term sustainable foundation for Burlington. Before we update our initiatives regarding these growth categories, I wanted to spend a few minutes on the progress we made in the fourth quarter, growing the gift category across home, men's, women's, and kids, a key de-weathering growth strategy that will continue into 2018 and beyond. We believe our strong sales increase in gifts in the fourth quarter helped drive traffic and conversion, and was a significant contributor to our sales increase in the fourth quarter.

We still see incremental opportunity in gifts as we refine our assortments and merchandising strategies. We view this opportunity as a key contributor not only to drive two of our key strategic growth businesses, home and beauty, but our assortments in gifts will continue to drive growth that spans the entire store across men's, women's, kids, and accessories.With regard to home, we made substantial progress in 2017 as we increased the home category to 13.9% of our annual sales versus 12.4% in 2016, an increase of 150 basis points. Home still represents our largest category growth opportunity, as there remains a substantial gap between our penetration of our peers who are north of 20%. Specifically, we have more opportunity to expand the presence of highly recognizable national brands at home and still see several key underdeveloped categories we have targeted for growth in 2018.

Our beauty business had another very strong quarter and we expect this category to be a key growth opportunity for many years. We'll continue to broaden the number of brands and designer and prestige fragrances, expand existing categories and beauty accessories, and chase trends while elevating our assortments in cosmetics and skin care. In addition, beauty was a key element to our fourth-quarter gift strategy and helped drive strong sales increases in this key underdeveloped growth category. Ladies' apparel remains a significant opportunity, as our penetration of 23.3% at the end of 2017 still remains well below our peer group at approximately 30%.

While our penetration in overall ladies' apparel did drop 110 basis points in 2017 versus 2016, we continue to get strong growth in the largest component of ladies' apparel, which is missy sportswear. Strength and better and active sportswear helped drive a slight increase in missy sportswear penetration in 2017 versus 2016, though this growth was offset by a drop in penetration in some of our more developed heritage ladies' apparel categories, such as dresses, suits, juniors, and intimates. We are highly focused on stimulating growth in these other areas of ladies' apparel and we feel we are well-positioned for improvement in 2018, as well as continued growth in missy sportswear and ladies' apparel in total. We continue to add to the quality of our vendor base.

While we finished 2017 at a similar number of vendors as last year, we added approximately 1,200 new vendors to the mix as we continue to edit out less meaningful brands. We carry approximately 5,000 brands and expect that number to increase over time. In 2017, our branded-unit receipt penetration increased over 200 basis points while our better-and-best unit receipt penetration increased over 300 basis points versus the prior year. In terms of product availability, the buying environment remains very attractive and we would characterize product availability as very strong.On the marketing front, our holiday advertising strategy built on the success of our testimonial campaign and featured our own customers shopping and finding great values in our stores.

In particular, our focus on gifts across the store, was very effective and portrayed Burlington as a gift destination and helped drive our success in that category. We continue to get positive feedback from our customers regarding our campaign and our research indicates very strong scores on both ad recall and brand recognition. Our store experience continues to be an important initiative for us. We're on track to get the significant majority of our stores to our brand standard over the next five years.

We made significant progress in 2017 modernizing our store fleet, remodeling 34 stores in addition to opening 48 gross new stores, adding 82 stores to our brand standard. Our customers have responded very positively to the improvements we've made to our store base, including our increasingly smaller store footprint. This has manifested itself in our customer service scores, which have increased significantly since we began tracking in 2008. We are committed to investing capital to continually improve our store portfolio and plan to remodel another 34 stores in 2018.The second growth initiative continues to be expanding our store fleet.

We opened 37 net new stores in 2017, averaging 45,000 square feet. We are a national retailer that operates in 45 states plus Puerto Rico, yet we only operated 629 stores at year-end. Most mature, national, off-mall retailers operate with well over 1,000 stores, far more than our current footprint. Given the strong performance we've experienced in our new stores and the real-estate opportunities that continue to be presented to us, we expect to open 35 to 40 net new stores in 2018, which includes 16 gross new stores, averaging 43,000 square feet, along with 20 to 25 store relocations and closings.

While the number of net new stores is similar to 2017, we're increasing the number of gross new store openings by 12 stores. This acceleration will translate to another 94 stores added to our brand standard, including 60 new stores and 34 remodels. This means that in just two years, 2017 and 2018 combined, we will have added 176 stores to our brand standard. Looking out five years, at the current rate of new store openings and remodels, we would expect a significant majority of our stores to be in our brand standard.

Moreover, we remain confident in our ability to expand to 1,000 stores over the long term.We also remain focused on our third growth priority, continuing to deliver operating-margin expansion. Over the last five years, we expanded our operating margins by 370 basis points, an average of approximately 75 basis points per year. While we are very pleased with this progress, there is still significant opportunity versus our peer group. Going forward, we will continue to execute the same game plan that we have deployed over the last five years, driving total sales increases to leverage fixed costs, optimizing markdowns, remaining disciplined with inventory management, and maintaining an active profit-improvement culture across all SG&A areas.Before I turn the call over to Mark, I want to take a moment to discuss our approach to 2018 planning.

As with prior years, we work hard to balance CAPEX and incremental OPEX investments in our business with continuing to deliver expansion in operating margin. As you know, our business model generates substantial cash flow. Accordingly, we are pleased to announce the following CAPEX and incremental OPEX and investment in 2018 to drive sales growth, improve our infrastructure, and give back to our associates. No.

1, our company's highest annual gross CAPEX spend of over $300 million, which will include 60 new stores, 34 remodels, another $34 million of spending in our supply chain, and $11.5 million to complete the renovations of our corporate headquarters. No. 2, incremental hourly wages up $13 million on top of three prior years of similar increases. No.

3, 10% increase in our merchandising team headcount. And No. 4, an increase in employer contributions to our medical costs to keep employee costs flat for the second straight year. Overall, we believe we are taking a balanced approach with investments in the business while simultaneously expanding operating margins.Now, I'd like to turn the call over to Mark to review our financial performance and outlook in more details.


Mark Katz -- Chief Financial Officer

Thanks, Tom, and good morning, everyone. Thank you for joining us today. We ended the fourth quarter by recording our 20th consecutive quarter of positive comparable-store sales. In addition, we achieved strong contribution from new stores and expansion in adjusted EBIT margin, which combined, delivered a 22% increase in adjusted earnings per share on a 13-week basis.

Next, I will turn to a review of the income statement. Please note that the following discussion of fourth-quarter financial results will be on a 13-week non-GAAP basis unless otherwise indicated. For the purposes of this discussion, we have excluded from adjusted net income and adjusted earnings per share any estimated impact on our fourth-quarter results triggered by 2017 tax reform. In the fourth quarter, total sales increased 10% and comparable-store sales increased 5.9% on top of last year's strong 4.6% increase.

In addition, the 53rd week added $82 million in total sales to this result, bringing our Q4 total sales increase on a 14-week basis to 14.9%. In the quarter, our comparable-store sales performance was driven primarily by an increase in traffic, while conversion, average unit retail, and units per transaction were all up versus last year. It is worth noting that as anticipated, the eight storm-damaged stores that were closed for the entire quarter reduced new and non-comp sales by approximately $25 million. As of the end of February, these eight stores were still closed.

As of now, we anticipate one of these stores reopening by the end of Q1, with the balance by the end of Q3. Gross margin rate was 42%, an increase of 20 basis points versus last year, driven by higher IMU and a slightly lower markdown rate, which more than offset a higher shortage rate. We took physical inventories in approximately 350 stores in January and our shortage results came in as we had guided, resulting in a 20-basis-point negative impact versus last year. Remember that inventory shortage represented 65 basis points of gross margin, good news in last year's fourth quarter.

Therefore, excluding the impact of shortage, gross margin increased 40 basis points in the fourth quarter of 2017 versus a 15-basis-point increase in the fourth quarter of 2016. Product-sourcing costs, which were included in SG&A and include the cost of processing goods through our supply chain and buying costs, were flat to last year as a percentage of net sales. We are once again very pleased with the continued productivity improvements in our supply chain and we will continue to focus on additional productivity gains in 2018. SG&A exclusive of product-sourcing costs was 22.8%, 40 basis points lower than last year as a percentage of sales.

These results were driven by leverage in occupancy, business insurance, and marketing, which more than offset de-leverage in incentive-compensation and stock-compensation expense. Other income and other revenue was $9 million, 10 basis points lower as a percentage of sales versus last year. Adjusted EBITDA increased 14% or $35 million, to $290 million. Sales growth, gross margin improvement, and SG&A leverage led to a 50-basis-point expansion in rate for the quarter.

Depreciation and amortization expense exclusive of net favorable lease amortization increased $4 million, to $45 million, and interest expense increased $1 million, to $14 million. The effective tax rate prior to the estimated impact of 2017 tax reform and the change in accounting for share-based compensation was 36.6% for the fourth quarter. The change in accounting for share-based compensation reduced the rate for the quarter by 180 basis points. The changes in rate and deductions resulting from 2017 tax reform reduced the fourth-quarter rate by an additional 100 basis points.

Finally, 2017 tax reform triggered a one-time estimated revaluation of the company's deferred taxes, which created a $93 million, or 41.8%, benefit that was recognized during the fourth quarter. All of these changes resulted in a GAAP tax benefit of 8% and an adjusted tax benefit of 5.9%. Combined, this resulted in adjusted net income of $151 million, a 19% increase versus last year. As a reminder, this adjusted net income result includes the change in accounting for share-based compensation but excludes the benefits of 2017 tax reform.

We continue to return value to our shareholders through our share-repurchase program. During the quarter we purchased approximately 458,000 shares of stock for $52 million. At the end of the fourth quarter, we had $217 million remaining on our $300 million share-repurchase authorization that was approved this past August. All of this resulted in earnings per share on a 14-week basis of $3.47 versus $1.77 last year.

Note that this 14-week result includes $0.04 in earnings per share for the 53rd week. Adjusted earnings per share on a 13-week basis excluding the estimated impact of 2017 tax reform was $2.17 versus $1.78 last year. The $2.17-per-share result represents the $0.15 beat versus our top-end guidance. This beat was split between $0.12 of true operating output performance and $0.03 due to the adoption of the new share-based compensation accounting.

As a reminder, we guided to no benefit in Q4 for the adoption of the new share-based compensation accounting.Turning to our balance sheet at quarter-end, we have $133 million in cash, no borrowings on our EBL, and had unused credit availability of approximately $456 million. We ended the period with total debt of $1.1 billion and the debt-to-adjusted-EBITDA leverage ratio of 1.6 times. On November 17, 2017, we closed on the repricing and extension of a $1.1 billion term loan [Inaudible]. Our new rate is LIBOR plus 250 basis points, with the maturity extended out to November 2024.

Our previous pricing was LIBOR plus 275 basis points with the term loan maturing in August 2021. This transaction moved out our term loan maturity date over three years to November 2024 as well as providing $2.8 million in cash interest savings per year for the next seven years. As a result of this transaction, the company recognized a non-cash loss on the extinguishment of debt of $3 million and incurred fees of $2 million, which were reflected in the fourth-quarter GAAP results. As a reminder, $800 million of our $1.1 billion term loan is capped with an interest rate hedge of LIBOR at 1.65% through May of 2019.

Merchandise inventories were $753 million versus $702 million last year. This increase was driven primarily by inventory related to 37 net new stores opened during fiscal 2017 and an increase in pack-and-hold inventory, which was 25% of total inventory at the end of fourth quarter fiscal 2017, compared to 23% at the end of the fourth quarter fiscal 2016. Comparable-store inventory decreased 7% and comparable-store inventory turnover improved 10% during the fourth quarter. As indicated earlier, we were very pleased that inventory aged 91 days and older at the end of the fourth quarter was down 26% versus the prior year.

Cash flow provided by operations decreased $9 million, to $607 million. Improved operating results and an increase in deferred rent incentives were offset by changes in working capital, primarily related to inventories and other current liabilities. Net capital expenditures were $213 million for fiscal 2017. During the quarter, we closed three stores and opened one new store, ending the period with 629 stores.

We opened 37 net new stores for the year including 48 gross new stores, five relocations, and six store closures. As we indicated earlier on the call, due to weather-related damages, eight stores remained closed for the entire fourth quarter of 2017.Next, I will review our fiscal-year 2017 performance. Please note that the following discussion of fiscal 2017 financial results will be on a 52-week non-GAAP basis unless otherwise indicated. Again, as in the discussion of fourth-quarter results, we have excluded from adjusted net income and adjusted earnings per share the estimated impact of 2017 tax reform.

Total sales rose 7.8% [Inaudible] included a comparable-store sales increase of 3.4% following a strong 4.5% comparable-store sales gain in fiscal 2016. Total sales results were negatively impacted by approximately $42 million related to weather-impacted stores during the year. In addition, the 53rd week resulted in additional $82 million in sales, taking our sales increase on a 53-week basis to 9.3% for fiscal 2017. Gross margin was 41.5%, representing an increase of 75 basis points versus fiscal 2016, primarily due to a lower markdown rate and higher IMU.

Product-sourcing costs were flat versus last year's rate. As a percentage of net sales, SG&A exclusive of product-sourcing costs improved 25 basis points, to 25.9%. Expense leverage was driven mainly by rate reductions in occupancy, business insurance, and advertising spend, partially offset by increases in wages and stock-based compensation. Adjusted EBITDA increased by 18%, or $104 million, to $688 million.

This represents 11.5% as a percentage of sales, driving a 95-basis-point increase in the rate for fiscal 2017. Depreciation and amortization expense exclusive of net favorable lease amortization increased by $15 million, to $175 million, and interest expense increased by $2 million, to $58 million. The effective tax rate for fiscal 2017 prior to the estimated impact of 2017 tax reform and the change in accounting for share-based compensation was 37%. The share-based compensation activity provided a 440-basis-point benefit, bringing our effective tax rate to 32.6% before the estimated impact of 2017 tax reform.

The change to the January tax rate and deduction rules triggered by 2017 tax reform resulted in a 60-basis-point benefit, bringing our effective tax rate to 32% for fiscal 2017. 2017 tax reform also triggered an estimated revaluation of the company's deferred-tax liabilities, creating a $93 million one-time benefit, resulting in a GAAP tax rate of approximately 10% and adjusted net tax rate of approximately 12%. Combined, this resulted in net income of $385 million, an increase of 78% on a 53-week basis. Adjusted net income was $307 million, versus an adjusted net income of $232 million last year, an increase of 32%.

As a reminder, this adjusted net income result includes the change in accounting for share-based compensation but excludes the benefits of 2017 tax reform. Earnings per share on a 53-week basis was $5.48, versus $3.01 last year. The 53rd week added $0.04 in additional earnings per share for fiscal 2017. Adjusted earnings per share on a 52-week basis excluding the estimated impact of 2017 tax reform was $4.37, inclusive of a $0.23-per-share benefit related to the accounting change for share-based compensation versus $3.24 last year.

Excluding the $0.23 benefit related to the accounting change for share-based compensation as well as the 53rd week, adjusted earnings per share grew 28%. Fully diluted shares outstanding were 70.3 million shares, versus 71.7 million last year.Now I will turn to our outlook. For the 2018 fiscal year, we expect total sales growth in the range of 9% to 10%, as compared to fiscal 2017 excluding the 53rd week; comparable-store sales to increase in the range of 2% to 3% on top of last year's 3.4% increase; adjusted EBITDA margin expansion of 30 to 40 basis points; depreciation and amortization exclusive of favorable lease amortization, to be approximately $200 million; adjusted EBIT margin expansion of 20 to 30 basis points; interest expense to approximately $60 million; and an effective tax rate of approximately 23% to 24%. Capital expenditures net of landlord allowances are expected to be approximately $250 million.

This results in adjusted earnings-per-share guidance in the range of $5.73 to $5.83. The company expects adjusted EPS, excluding the impact of 2017 tax reform and the accounting for share-based compensation, to be in the range of $4.71 to $4.81, representing an increase of 14% to 16% over the comparable 52-week 2017 adjusted EPS of $4.14. For the first quarter of 2018, we expect total sales growth in the range of 9.5% to 10.5%, comparable-store sales to increase between 2% and 3%, adjusted earnings per share to be in the range of $1.05 to $1.09 compared to $0.79 per share last year. Excluding the estimated impact of 2017 tax reform and the accounting change for share-based compensation, we expect adjusted EPS growth to be in the range of 16% to 21%.With that, I'll turn it over to Tom for closing remarks.

Tom Kingsbury -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks, Mark. In summary, we believe our results this quarter demonstrates the agility and increasingly strong foundation of our business model. We drove operating results above our expectations and expect the continued implementation of our growth initiatives and store-expansion plans to enable us to continue our positive performance in 2018 and beyond. We are confident in our outlook and believe in our focus on evolving our off-price model and our ability to capitalize on the rapidly changing retail landscape.

This positions us well to bring more great brands, styles, and value to customers and increased value for our shareholders. Again, I'd like to thank the stores, supply chain, and corporate teams for their contributions to our strong fiscal 2017 results.With that, I'd like to turn the call over to the operator to begin the question-and-answer portion of the call. Operator?

Questions and Answers:


Thank you. We'll now be conducting a question-and-answer session. [Operator's instructions]. Our first question today is coming from Ike Boruchow from Wells Fargo.

Your line is now live.

Ike Boruchow -- Wells Fargo -- Managing Director

Good morning, everyone. Great holiday and thanks for all the color on the call. So I guess the first question, Tom, you mentioned that the non-cold-weather businesses performed above the chain average, which I guess implies the cold-weather categories underperformed a bit. I guess this is a little bit surprising given the favorable weather and some of the strength in cold-weather categories we've heard from some other retailers.

Just help us understand what drove the underperformance in cold-weather goods.

Tom Kingsbury -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah. Ike, just to reinforce what I said previously, we're really pleased that we made tremendous progress de-weathering our business. Among our strong non-colder-weather businesses, it wasn't just gifts that outperformed. Home, beauty, athletic apparel, and footwear among many other businesses were very strong.

These are businesses that tend to stick with you and become part of the foundation of our business and typically have less volatility. That has long been an important objective for the company, as you know, and we couldn't be more thrilled with the performance of our non-cold weather categories in the fourth quarter. Now, to talk about the cold-weather performance, we did exceed our plan nicely, though we did plan the category down. That was a strategic decision to plan the business down because No.

1, you just can't count on the weather, and No. 2, we have such a significant opportunity to develop our non-cold-weather businesses. Ike, it's probably fair to say that we could have done more cold-weather business if we bought more upfront and earlier in the season. I'll take the trade-off all day long to build the penetration of sustainable non-weather-sensitive businesses and to have ended with such clean inventory from an aging perspective.

Maybe next year if the weather is similar, we may be less conservative but we're meeting our objective and our objective is to grow our non-cold-weather businesses, and we feel very, very good about what we achieved in the fourth quarter and in turn, will continue to reduce the volatility in our business.

Ike Boruchow -- Wells Fargo -- Managing Director

Got it. Thanks so much, Tom. And then, Mark, one for you. There's a lot of moving pieces, I think, in the guidance in terms of the tax rate and the share-based comp and headwinds like the wages.

Can you just walk us through the outlook and help us to understand how we should think about the guidance on an apples-to-apples basis, including basically the entire P&L, gross margin, SG&A, etc.?

Mark Katz -- Chief Financial Officer

Good morning. I'll go ahead and unpack that one question with 17 parts to it here. I think we'll start with EPS on an apples-to-apples basis. And we've got a headwind, so we'll talk about wages, and that will give you a component to the operating margin increase.

So our starting point is a 52-week 2017 EPS base for $4.37. That was, I think, the last table of our press release and you saw that that excludes the benefit of tax reform in the 53rd week. So what that does include, though, is $0.23 for the accounting change for share-based compensation. So we're going to back that out.

I'll get more into that in a second, but if we back out that $0.23 benefit, you get what we refer to as a base EPS of $4.14. So that's one of the reasons we provided guidance before the accounting change and before tax reform of $4.71 to $4.81, which represents a growth rate of 14% to 16% on top of that $4.14, and that's consistent with the mid-teens growth that we talked about in our Q3 call. As far as the accounting change for share-based compensation, we're really assuming the same level of underlying activity this year. I mean, it's a complex thing.

We have options [Inaudible] and clearly are exercised throughout the year. We've got one year of good history with that. We're assuming it's the same level of activity but due to the tax-rate change, that activity is worth less from an EPS point of view. I guess, technically it's worth 60% of what it was the prior year.

So going forward, that accounting change for share-based compensation will be baked into our tax rate just because it's too complicated to undo it at the old one. So, if you add back the benefit of 2018 tax reform and the accounting change, that's when you get it to really our all-in guidance of $5.73 to $5.83. In fact, [Inaudible] headwinds and wages. So, as far as headwinds in total, we have $13 million in incremental wages.

We have $9 million in incremental stock-based compensation expense, the expense side of that, and then, of course, the biggest one, which is $25 million in depreciation, which obviously is driven by our higher gross CAPEX spends in 2017 and what we're projecting now for 2018. In terms of wages, similar to prior years, our store OPS and our HR teams performed their annual market-by-market review of our hourly wages. That resulted in incremental $9 million of wages for stores versus $7 million last year and $4 million for DCs, also versus $7 million last year. We're very confident in this competitive approach to wages.

We have two metrics that we focus on as it relates to our hourly workforce -- turnover and open jobs percent -- and we're pleased with both of those metrics at year-end and we remain pleased today but, frankly, we believe we would not be able to achieve the results that we have if we didn't have the right people in our stores and our DCs. With that said, wages are a dynamic part of our business and as we've done for the last few years, we'll continue to monitor it throughout the year. If at some point in time we reach a point that requires us to adjust, we will, and then, of course, we'll leverage our profit-improvement culture to offset as much of that as possible. And, I guess, speaking about our profit-improvement culture, I tell you, I just continue to be so impressed by all of our sales-support teams who continue to find ways to become more efficient not only so that we can overcome the headwinds that I just talked about but also allow us to guide EBIT margin expansion, which I think was the final part of your question.

So, as far as the planned EBIT expansion of 20 to 30 basis points, Iriwn, we kind of break it down this way -- a merch margin plus of 50 basis points, less a freight headwind of 10 basis points, a product-sourcing-cost headwind of 10 basis points.That kind of gets us to what we refer to as loaded margin of 30 basis points. That depreciation number I spoke to earlier is also a 10-basis-point headwind. And in SG&A, similar story to prior years. SG&A at the 2% comp we expect to be flat and our SG&A of 3%, we expect to pick up 10 basis points of leverage.

Ike Boruchow -- Wells Fargo -- Managing Director

Super helpful. Thanks so much.


Our next question is coming from Matthew Boss from J.P.Morgan Chase and Company. Your line is now live.

Matthew Boss -- J.P.Morgan -- Analyst

Thanks. Congrats on a nice quarter. Tom, it sounds like your gifting strategies was a big win this fourth quarter. Could you speak to the strong performance in gifts and provide any color on the underperformance in ladies' apparel? That would be helpful.

Tom Kingsbury -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

OK. Well, let's start with gifts, which were a key part of our progress made in de-weathering our business, as I stated before. We're very pleased with his category's performance and it really, really helps us build a less weather-sensitive foundation for the company. We're extremely pleased with both our gift assortments as well as our store execution, the strong performances across home, accessories, men's, women's, and kids, as I stated previously.

We still see significant growth in the category going forward. I'd add that gifts and home were big contributors to our success in the overall gift business but there are a lot of great home growth categories. Gifts certainly help drive home penetration to 14% in 2017. Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I visited hundreds of stores and I have to say that our stores' team really did a great job in terms of the overall presentation of the product within our stores and our merchants' team did an outstanding job of product selection, and it was really a compelling assortment for customers.So, let's move to ladies' apparel.

When we refer to ladies' apparel, we are not only talking about missy sportswear. Ladies' apparel also includes juniors, dresses, suits, and intimate apparel. Missy sportswear is the largest and most important business in ladies' apparel. We're really pleased with the growth of that business, which did increase in penetration modestly versus last year driven by better and active sportswear, as I mentioned before.

But some of the other businesses in the ladies' apparel have not been as strong. Some of our heritage businesses like dresses, suits, juniors, and intimates were not as strong as we would have liked. We do have strategies in place to improve those businesses and these areas will be a focus for 2018. So, overall, our penetration total in ladies' apparel did drop by approximately 100 basis points, to 23% from 24% but we're optimistic that we can reignite growth and capture market share that we believe we are owed in ladies' apparel given our penetration of 23% versus our peers, around 30%.

But, Matt, we have a talented team in place in these areas. With one more year of experience, we feel confident we have the right strategies in place to have a successful 2018.

Matthew Boss -- J.P.Morgan -- Analyst

Great. And then just a follow-up. Mark, can you update us on how your new stores are performing more maybe in terms of sales and EBIT? I think you provided a statistic last year versus the chain and was just hoping maybe for an update.

Mark Katz -- Chief Financial Officer

Sure, Matt. We continue to be very pleased with the performance of our new stores both from a sales and a profitability perspective. They continue to perform in line or better than our underwriting models. In terms of the stats that we typically give at the end of the year, at the end of 2017, our stores that were under 60,000 gross square feet ended up being 22% more productive than the chain average.

That's the first one. And I think the other one you're referring to, Matt, is last year we gave a stat on our 2013 and 2014 cohorts in terms of how they performed in 2016 versus the chain. So, we'll go ahead and update you there. Also, this year our 2014 and our 2015 cohorts, in terms of how they operated in 2017 versus the chain, the comp-sales increase for those two cohorts exceeded the chain average by 240 basis points and their EBIT margin expansion was 200 basis points higher than the chain.

Matthew Boss -- J.P.Morgan -- Analyst

Wow. That's great.

Mark Katz -- Chief Financial Officer

That still remains inside of three years, Matt.

Matthew Boss -- J.P.Morgan -- Analyst

OK, great. Thank you.


Thank you. Our next question today is coming from Kimberly Greenberger from Morgan Stanley. Your line is now live.

Kimberly Greenberger -- Morgan Stanley -- Managing Director

Great. Thank you so much and I'll add my congratulations as well for a very fine quarter. Mark, my question is on the 2018 revenue guidance. We're trying to understand some of the drivers of the acceleration in total revenue growth, thinking about the 9% to 10% on a 52-to-52-week basis.

Maybe you could just go through new-store opening growth this year and last year? Are there any changes in the timing of those store openings and then, secondarily, maybe there's a change in closure and any other assumptions that would drive that acceleration. Thank you so much

Mark Katz -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, sure, Kimberly. You hit the nail on the head. So, 60 gross new-store openings, 27 in spring, 33 in fall. And out of that 27 in spring, this could wiggle a little bit, Kimberley, but in terms of what's in our guidance right now, we've got 17 March openings and five in April, five in May.

So, that's the key driver. And the only thing I'd mention to you in terms of the closures, too, is just remember that our closures are typically very small-volume stores. So, they're much less in annual volume than the stores that we're opening up. Those are really the drivers.

Kimberly Greenberger -- Morgan Stanley -- Managing Director

Great. Thanks so much. Mark, my follow-up is just on that stock-based compensation [Inaudible] EPS last year. This is obviously a super complex issue, I think, for us to understand, but maybe you can you talk about the factors that would drive a similar benefit in 2018 versus 2017.

And if there were things that would change, that would cause a headwind or tailwind, what would those factors be that would cause a differential on the benefit? Thanks so much.

Mark Katz -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, just a lot of moving pieces there, everything from the number of restricted shares, the vest, the number of options that vest, where the stock price is and how people -- what factors, all our executives go through in terms of their decision-making process in terms of how and when they exercise, which, of course, you'd think has a lot to do with where the stock price is. So lots of moving pieces there and that's not something obviously you can get all the data on to know exactly what it is, but just in terms of the overall population of shares that are vesting and when and the fact that we made some guesses in terms of what we think the stock price is going to do -- we think that underlying activity will be similar to last year but, again, anything could happen.

Kimberly Greenberger -- Morgan Stanley -- Managing Director

Great. Thanks, Mark.


Our next question today is coming from Lorraine Hutchinson for Bank of America. Your line is now live.

Lorraine Hutchinson -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Thank you. Good morning. I think you said AUR was up in the fourth quarter. Can you talk about what drove that and if you expect that to continue as a comp driver in 2018?

Mark Katz -- Chief Financial Officer

Yeah, Lorraine. So, we had AUR up a little bit in Q3, also a little bit in Q4. If I had to tell you what the drivers were, I'd probably look to a higher, better, best penetration; I'd look to a higher percent of full-price sales versus markdown sales and, I guess, some of those areas Tom called out as being very strong as you think about better sportswear, men's, kids', athletic shoes -- those are areas that typically have a higher AUR. In terms of going forward, I'd probably tell you our last few months is probably the best indicator but you don't know.

We do not have a strategy to move AUR from X to Y. We have lots of merchandising strategies to grow traffic and to grow comps but AUR's really a byproduct of that.

Tom Kingsbury -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Yeah, we really just want to focus on delivering great values and we really don't want to have a road map to grow the AUR because if you have a road map and you plan it, then it happens but our No. 1 goal is and has been delivering great values to our customers and we really feel that that has contributed to the kind of sales performance that we've been delivering.

Lorraine Hutchinson -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

Operator, we have time for one more question, please.


Our final question today is coming from the life of John Kernan from Cowen and Company. Your line is now live.

John Kernan -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

Good morning, everyone. Thanks for taking my question. Congrats on a really strong holiday. Just on that theme of AUR, Tom, I think you mentioned branded-unit receipt penetration was up 200 basis points and better-best was up 300 basis points.

While we can obviously see the expansion of the vendor base when we go into the stores. Can you just talk about how much further the better-best can go in terms of mix and how much higher the branded-unit receipt penetration can go in terms of the mix? Obviously, that's an AUR- and comp-driver.

Tom Kingsbury -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Right. Well, as far as branded goes, we're on a pretty steady track of a couple-hundred basis points every single year. We'll see how that expands. If we feel we still have opportunities to add even more brands.

As far as better goes, again, it all depends on what kind of values we can deliver our customers but I anticipate that that will continue to grow. We really haven't said, "OK, we want it to be X% over the next five years," because, again, we want the value to be the No. 1 focus of what we do every single day and things will happen over time. One of the things that we're very proud of is the fact that we've been growing our customers who make over $75,000 a year at a much higher level than the other customers we have in our base and I think a lot of that has to do with delivering the better product and also the way our stores are looking today.

The more we improve the look of our stores, as we stated, we've made some significant progress in '17 and we will again in '18, that all helps generate a different customer.

John Kernan -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

Thanks. And just one follow-up. You've had a long history of reporting upside to your guidance since you've been a public company. The Q1 comp guidance does assume a deceleration from where you were running in the fourth quarter and the two-year stack trend is decelerating as well.

I'm just wondering was gift giving so robust in the fourth quarter that the trends have moderated a little bit in Q1? Or is there some type of conservatism here in terms of the guidance? Thanks.

Mark Katz -- Chief Financial Officer

John, I think you know how we guide and we're typically at 2% to 3% comp guidance and the reason for that is we're able to plan our receipt base and our expense base accordingly and we certainly feel and we think we've certainly proven over time that to the extent there's more business to be had that we'll be all over that. We have a lot of confidence in our merchandising team to beat it if it's there.


Thank you. We've reached the end of our question-and-answer session. I'd like to turn the floor back over to Mr. Kingsbury for any further or closing comments.

Tom Kingsbury -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Thanks for joining us today, everybody. We look forward to speaking with you when we report first-quarter results in late May. Thank you. Have a good day.


Thank you. That does conclude today's teleconference. You may disconnect your line at this time and have a wonderful day. We thank you for your participation today.

Duration: 66 minutes

Call Participants:

David Glick -- Vice President Investor Relations

Tom Kingsbury -- Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Mark Katz -- Chief Financial Officer

Ike Boruchow -- Wells Fargo -- Managing Director

Matthew Boss -- J.P.Morgan -- Analyst

Kimberly Greenberger -- Morgan Stanley -- Managing Director

Lorraine Hutchinson -- Bank of America Merrill Lynch -- Analyst

John Kernan -- Cowen and Company -- Analyst

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