Shares in global online fashion store ASOS (ASC:AIM) are in vogue, swaggering 7.3% higher to £51.86 on forecast-busting fourth quarter figures and news that full-year profits will beat expectations.

Floated at a 20p in 2001, the web-based fashion wonder continues to confound naysayers with its stellar growth rates and meteoric share price rise.

ASC - Comparison Line Chart (Rebased to first)

Today's fourth quarter trading statement to the end of August is comfortably ahead of expectations, showing sales accelerating in all ASOS' core markets and prompting upgrades from City number crunchers.

Overall group sales surged 46% higher to £212.5 million, driven by 49% growth in UK retail sales to £74.1 million and a 47% rise in international retail revenues, now 64% of ASOS' business, to £133.8 million.

Confident chief executive officer Nick Robertson says those markets where the Aim retailer has dedicated websites and in-country teams are spearheading its global growth drive.

Overseas highlights included near-60% growth in US sales to £20.9 million, a 73% sales advance to £53 million in the EU, driven by France, Germany, Italy and Spain, as well as strong growth in Russia following the launch of a local language website in May.

ASOS still has much to play for globally, with the £4 billion cap recently disclosing its long-awaited expansion strategy for China, with a launch into the vast Asian market expected next month.

With ASOS having grown total sales for the year to August 40% to £754 million following this strong finish to the year, Robertson also lauds a 460 basis point hike in quarterly retail gross margin following the full annualisation of last year's investments in competitive pricing.

Margin gains are enabling ASOS to invest in digital marketing and product quality and range improvements, which in turn is attracting even more customers.

Shipping for free to 237 countries and adept at using social media and celebrity trends to lure in fashion-forward twenty-somethings, ASOS now has 7.1 million active customers, defined as those who have shopped in the last 12 months, a staggering 42% year-on-year growth rate.

Wayne Brown, analyst at Canaccord Genuity, has a 'buy' rating and £62 price target for ASOS. He writes that 'the stronger top line performance and the delivery of stronger gross margins leads us to increase our forecasts by 3.5% at the pre-tax profit level for 2013, from £51.7 million to £53.5 million and 7% in 2014E to £69.4 million. One should also note that this level of pre-tax profit is depressed by £6 million worth of start-up losses in China suggesting the core business is delivering profits c10% higher than actually being achieved.'

With a £60 price target, Numis Securities' Andrew Wade reiterates his 'buy' recommendation and also ratchets up his August 2013 and 2014 profit forecasts from £52 million to £53.6 million and £65 million to £67 million respectively. 'We continue to believe that ASOS is a unique global proposition,' he writes, 'a profitable fast fashion online pureplay, investing in driving exceptional growth, and squarely targeting the twenty-something fashion market.'

Issue Date: 19 Sep 2013