I often look at the reaction Mr. Market gives to a company that beats or misses earnings by a penny and wonder where else in the world is a penny valued so spectacularly in the immediate term. Of course, it's not as simple as a penny, because most companies have millions -- or billions -- of shares. But given all the estimates at work in accounting, and in turn at a company's disposal, coming up with an extra penny isn't all that difficult sometimes.

Today's winner by a penny is fashion king-pin Ralph Lauren (NYSE:RL), which turned in fourth quarter earnings per share of $0.22 instead of the expected $0.21. In fairness to Ralph Lauren, though, the company did have a fantastic quarter and year. Sales for the year were up 24.7%, and diluted earnings per share for the year were up 8.9%. The underperformance on earnings per share was below revenue growth, due to one-time charges. Back the charges out and earnings per share growth was on par with revenues.

For Ralph Lauren, this performance builds on last year's success and more of the same is expected in the next year. Personally, I wouldn't be too surprised, because Ralph Lauren came up on a screen I ran for increasing margins about six months ago, along with fellow retailer Limited Brands (NYSE:LTD). Both have been sitting on my watch list since then and both are solid companies, though Ralph Lauren is further along with its current strategic plan.

For investors interested in Ralph Lauren, there's a lot to like. The business has been taking greater control of its brand by repurchasing rights from licenses and bringing them in house. The most recent examples being the footwear license from Motley Fool Stock Advisor pick Reebok (NYSE:RBK) and the woman's line from Jones Apparel (NYSE:JNY). While the settlement from Jones Apparel put a large dent in this quarter, I like the strategy for a company that has long been perceived as upper-tier, because in the long run I believe the company's success is dependent on the public perception of its brand.

With a solid balance sheet, improving operational performance, strong free cash flow, and a small dividend, Ralph Lauren appears to offer growth at a reasonable price today and, should its brand consolidation and control strategy bear fruit, well into the future.

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Nathan Parmelee has no financial interest in any of the companies mentioned. You can view his profile here. The Motley Fool has an iron-clad disclosure policy.