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Merrill Upgrades Gymboree to 'Buy'

Merrill Lynch upgraded Gymboree (GYMB) to buy from neutral.

Analyst Mark Friedman says Gymboree has enjoyed a great holiday season, and is benefiting from outstanding products combined with better operating execution. He notes the company has been in a several-step rebound, which began with improved products in its girls' business that were aimed at re-gaining core customers, and then attracting a broader base. The company also improved the products in ts accessories, newborn and boys departments, all which were supported by more aggressive marketing. He says inventory management has stabilized, and the retailer has been working on improving systems, distribution and expense management, which is fueling higher margins

Friedman raised his 40 cents fourth quarter earnings per share estimate to 42 cents, and upped the fiscal 2004 earnings per share (Jan.) estimate to $1.00. He has a $24 target.

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