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Stein Mart sales jump 7.1 percent; shares rise

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) -- Stein Mart, the discount retailer, said Thursday that sales at stores open at least a year jumped 7.1 percent in November on higher sales for linens and certain clothing lines.

The company also announced a special dividend of $1 per share.

Stein Mart Inc.'s shares soared 10.5 percent, or 80 cents, to $8.39 in midday trading Thursday. Its shares have traded in a range between $6.02 and $9.34 over the past year.

Analysts track revenue at stores open at least a year because it weeds out the effect of new store openings and closings.

The special dividend will be paid on Dec. 24 to those that are shareholders as of Dec. 10. The company said it expects to give about $44 million to shareholders.

"The special dividend reflects our continued generation of strong cash flows and provides a way to return value to our shareholders," said Jay Stein, Stein Mart's interim chief executive officer, in a press release.

Many companies are making special end-of-year dividend payments or moving up their quarterly payouts because investors will have to pay higher taxes on dividend income starting in 2013, unless Congress and President Barack Obama reach a compromise on taxes and government spending.

Investors have paid a maximum 15 percent on dividends since 2003. But that historically low rate is set to expire in January. Dividends will be taxed as ordinary income in 2013, the same as wages, so rates will go up depending on which income bracket a taxpayer is in. For the highest earners, the dividend rate would jump to 43.4 percent. Even if a political compromise is reached, there's no guarantee that the tax rate for dividends will remain at its current level.

The Jacksonville, Fla.-based company said the best-selling categories last month were linens, men's furnishings and ladies' career sportswear. The weakest categories were ladies' casual sportswear, ladies' accessories and dresses.

Total sales for November rose 7.5 percent to $109.8 million from $102.1 million in the same period last year.

Stein Mart, which runs 263 stores, said that for the year to date, sales at stores open at least a year rose 2 percent and total sales rose 2.6 percent to $958.5 million.