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Ulta says holiday sales up 23 percent

BOLINGBROOK, Ill. (AP) -- Ulta Beauty said Friday that its overall holiday sales increased 23.2 percent over the prior year as shoppers bought more high-end skincare and cosmetics. Another closely-watched retail revenue metric rose just over 7 percent.

It also reaffirmed its fiscal fourth-quarter outlook that it first announced in November, but that was at the low end of market expectations. Its shares fell 5 percent in midday trading.

The beauty products retailer formally known as Ulta Salon Cosmetics & Fragrance Inc. said that its revenue for the seven-week period that ended Dec. 29 rose to $475.6 million from $386.0 million a year earlier.

Ulta said that revenue from its stores open at least a year increased 7.4 percent for the holiday period following a 12.6 percent increase last year. This comparison is considered a good indicator of a retailer's financial performance as it strips away the impact of recently opened or closed stores.

"We were pleased with our holiday sales performance given the numerous national news events that appeared to have curtailed customer purchasing behavior across most of retail," Ulta President and CEO Chuck Rubin said.

The company said that it had a record sales performance during the Black Friday and Cyber Monday weekend but it slowed in early December before rebounding the weekend before Christmas. Ulta said customers were more sensitive to value as they shopped its stores and online throughout the holiday period.

Ulta expects to earn 96 cents to 98 cents per share for the quarter on revenue of $742 million to $754 million. Analysts polled by FactSet are expecting the company to earn 98 cents per share on revenue of $752.4 million. It forecast an increase in revenue from established stores of 5 percent to 7 percent.

The company, based in Bolingbrook, Ill., operates Ulta 550 stores across the country.

Its shares fell $5.10 to $96.88 by midday but remain at the upper-end of its 52-week trading range of $68.52 to $103.52.