Its acquisition of Kasper now officially closed, women's apparel maker and marketer Jones Apparel Group (NYSE:JNY) yesterday turned to the release of its fourth-quarter and full-year 2003 financial results.

Despite a strong quarterly performance from retail operations, revenues were about flat for the year. Though it had lower sales than the wholesale segment, the retail division managed 3.4% same-store sales growth and company-best operating profits. Margins fell across the board, however, and net profit growth was mostly attributable to the fact that a change in accounting peeled about $14 million from the bottom line last year.

The company turned in free cash flow of some $402 million, down from $664 million in 2002, but that number still generated a respectable Cash King Margin of about 9%. (Thanks to Jones for providing full financial results, including a cash flow statement and balance sheet, in its press release.)

With further share buybacks -- the company repurchased nearly half a million shares in the latest quarter -- and acquisitions not out of the question this year, it's good to see that Jones still generates economic profit well in advance of net profit.

And 2004 looks better, according to management estimates. While revenue isn't expected to grow by much more than 1%, operating margins are seen expanding significantly. This year they fell year over year from 2002's 10%, but are expected to head back to about 13% for 2004. Operating cash flow is seen around last year's $450 million number.

It will be a busy year for Jones, which is counting on an improved economy and job market to drive demand for women's fashions and high-margin accessories toward itself -- but also competitors like Ann Taylor (NYSE:ANN) and Liz Claiborne (NYSE:LIZ). The integration of Kasper, which has hurt profit margins in the near-term while bringing significant new revenues to the table, will test management.

Talk about the outlook for Kasper and Jones on our Jones Apparel discussion board.

Fool contributor Dave Marino-Nachison doesn't own any of the companies in this story. He can be reached via email.