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Stein Mart key Dec. sales figure grows 4.5 percent

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Comparable-store sales at Stein Mart rose 4.5 percent in December, sending shares of the discount store higher in midday trading Thursday.

The figure is an important measure of a retailer's health as it removes more volatile results from stores that have recently opened or closed.

Linens, dresses and ladies' boutique posted the strongest sales for the month, while jewelry and men's sportswear didn't do as well. Geographically, sales were strongest in Florida, Texas and the Southeast and weakest in the Midwest and the Northeast.

Stein Mart said its total sales fell 2 percent in December to $175.6 million from $178.3 million. Quarter-to-date sales were up 2 percent to $295.5 million from $289.7 a year earlier.

The company said total sales in December were hurt by a timing shift. The 2012 retail calendar was 53 weeks long, giving people more time to shop, while 2013 was 52 weeks. As such, Stein Mart said the 4.5 percent increase is the best indicator for its holiday sales performance.

Shares of Stein Mart Inc. rose 39 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $14 in midday trading. The stock has traded in the 52-week range of $7.44 and $16.17.