Attention, bargain hunters! Whether you're looking for department-store brands at half price, or a Foolish investor searching for companies with the right business model for uncertain times, TJX (NYSE: TJX) is the place to be.

This off-price retailer, parent of the T.J. Maxx and Marshalls stores, among others, reported that its fourth-quarter earnings per share were up 17%. It capitalized on the one-two punch of penny-pinching shoppers seeking name-brand merchandise at reduced prices, and a struggling retail sector looking to unload excess goods on discount stores.

This powerful combination made for a great fourth quarter, as same-store sales were up 4%, on top of 5% gains from the same quarter last year. Even more striking is the fact that not a single one of TJX's seven concepts had lower comps during the quarter -- in sharp contrast to comp sales declines at both trendy apparel retailers like American Eagle Outfitters (NYSE: AEO) and private-label stores like Kohl's (NYSE: KSS).

The key to profitability was gross margins, which expanded by 150 basis points on opportunistic buying and occupancy leverage from the sales growth. Also, a favorable settlement of interference by computer hackers helped margins by 40 basis points. While this mistake was a bitter pill for the company, it may actually be helping sales -- TJX craftily offered discount vouchers to affected customers.

Inventories ended the quarter very clean, flat with the previous year on a per-store basis. Management credits much of its success last year to lean inventory, leaving plenty of open-to-buy dollars available for the next hot bargain. This is a big advantage for TJX, as even vigilant retailers like J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP) suffered during the holidays from overstocked shelves, and the inevitable markdowns that follow.

In contrast with its clothing, TJX's stock does seem a little pricey, with a trailing P/E of 12. But excluding costs from the database hackers adds $0.26 to 2007 EPS, bringing the trailing P/E to a more reasonable 16. And TJX does expect to earn $2.20 to $2.25 for 2008, making the forward P/E an even more attractive 14.3.

Bargain-hunting investors can find quality apparel retailers like Macy's (NYSE: M) at lower P/E ratios right now. But TJX looks to have found a formula that works in good times and bad, making its slightly premium price tag justifiable. This is one retailer investors should toss into their shopping carts.

For related Foolishness:

American Eagle Outfitters is a Motley Fool Stock Advisor selection, and the Fool owns shares of the company.

Fool contributor Timothy M. Otte surveys the retail scene from Dallas. He welcomes comments on his articles, but doesn't own shares of any of the companies mentioned in this article. The Fool has a disclosure policy.