It doesn't look like anybody will be in a big hurry to high-five Big 5 Sporting Goods (NASDAQ:BGFV) for this fourth quarter or its guidance for 2006. Although this stock had a strong performance out of the gates in 2003, it's been much rockier going since then, and now I'm wondering whether Big 5 isn't falling back to rejoin the fairly slow-growing pack of other sporting goods retailers.

On an as-reported basis, sales were basically flat in the quarter, though adjusting the comparisons for the extra week in the year-ago period improves that to 6% growth. Still, same-store growth of just 1.5% was pretty anemic and about half of the initial average analyst expectation. While the company saw positive sales trends in footwear and hard goods, clothing compared negatively for the quarter -- likely on account of the unusually warm weather this winter.

Turning to earnings, readers should note that there are unusual items in the two quarters that interfere with clean comparisons. In the case of gross margin, for instance, the company's as-reported number was lower than the year-ago period, but almost all of the decline was due to costs related to the company's new distribution center. Be that as it may, operating income still wouldn't have been all that strong even if you add back the "unusual" items this quarter.

I suppose I can see why some would like this company. It has quite a few long-tenured managers, it promotes aggressively, and it has a lot of items that are exclusive to its stores -- things you can't get at Dick's (NYSE:DKS), Cabela's (NYSE:CAB), or Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT). That said, all that experience didn't help it stay on budget with the new distribution center, and low comp-store sales growth isn't suggesting that those exclusive SKUs are just flying off the shelves.

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Fool contributor Stephen Simpson has no financial interest in any stocks mentioned (that means he's neither long nor short the shares).