By Michelle Graff
Akron, Ohio--Signet Jewelers Ltd. finished the year with a 4 percent increase in same-store sales, buoyed by strong diamond fashion jewelry sales in the fourth quarter.

The retailer reported Thursday morning that total sales for the year were up 14 percent, from $5.74 billion to $6.55 billion. Fiscal 2016, which ended Jan. 30, was the first full fiscal year in which Signet owned all the Zale brands.

Net income rose from $381.3 million to $467.9 million.

As previously announced, fourth quarter same-store sales were up 5 percent.

Total sales in the period went from $2.28 billion to $2.40 billion, also an increase of 5 percent.

Signet reiterated on its earnings call held Thursday morning that the “Ever Us” collection of two-stone rings was a major driver of sales in the fourth quarter, with CEO Mark Light calling it “one of the most significant innovations in the jewelry industry in years.” 

The retailer is testing line extensions planned for release for the 2016 holiday season.

Light said earring and bracelet sales also were strong in Q4 as was bridal, particularly Vera Wang Love, Neil Lane, Tolkowsky and, at H. Samuel in the U.K., Forever Diamond.

Among its various chains, Kay recorded the highest same-store fourth quarter sales at 7 percent, followed by Zales Jewelers and Piercing Pagoda at 6 percent.

Comps for Jared the Galleria of Jewelry increased only 1 percent, with Light noting that the chain faces a different challenge as an off-mall store with a different set of competitors than Kay and Zales and is doing comparatively well in its market.

Jared is in a “transitional phase,” he said, with the impending addition of Pandora shop-in-shops and a new program Signet is testing called “Chosen Diamond,” where customers will be able to trace the entire journey of their diamond from mine to store.

During Thursday’s call, Signet Chief Financial Officer Michele Santana also addressed the strength of Sterling’s in-house credit program, which Bloomberg Business called into question in an article published last month, speculating that the retailer is taking too much risk with the type of people to whom it offers jewelry on credit.

This is the second time the retailer has spoken out in defense of Sterling’s in-house credit program since the Bloomberg story ran.

Santana said that customers’ “emotional attachment” to their jewelry purchases supports repayment history, and that offering credit--which 75 percent of Sterling customers use when purchasing bridal--allows them to develop relationships and market to their customers.

She also noted that the in-house credit finance is designed for rapid repayment and turns over in nine months on average, and that the average FICO score of those receiving credit from Sterling has been in consistent range for a number of years.

Looking ahead, Signet said it expects a same-store sales increase of 3 to 4 percent in the first quarter, while it projects comps for the fiscal year to increase between 3 and 5 percent.

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