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The TJX business model is built to have tremendous flexibility and grow with the times, enabling us to navigate through economic downturns as well as upturns. Over our 35-year history as a Company, we have achieved consistent, strong performance. In fact, over this period we have had only one year with a comparable store sales decline. Over the last 16 years, we have delivered annual comparable store sales increases in each year, and earnings have grown solidly. Our long successful track record through many types of economic and retail environments is one of the reasons for our confidence that our strong top- and bottom-line growth is very sustainable.
On the top line, we have great growth opportunities with our value proposition. Whether the economy is weak or strong, we believe that value is here to stay! We strongly believe that our compelling values are why new customers will continue to turn to TJX brands and our loyal customers will continue to choose our stores. With our broad U.S. and international customer base, we believe we have one of the widest demographic audiences in retail. While we have substantially added to our customer base and expanded our customer reach, our research tells us that there remains significant opportunity to further our market penetration and tap consumers who have not yet shopped our stores. In 2012, we plan to further increase our advertising penetration to gain new customers, leveraging our global marketing abilities. Further, we are continuing to upgrade the shopping experience in our stores through our successful store remodeling program and in-store initiatives. Overall, we believe we continue to have major growth opportunities in our four major divisions, both in the U.S. and internationally.
On the bottom line, we believe we continue to have major opportunities. In the last three years, we have run our business with very low levels of inventories, which has helped drive faster inventory turns and strong merchandise margins. A major factor in our confidence in sustaining our bottom-line growth is our belief that there is still significant opportunity for operating with leaner and even faster-turning inventories. We have great flexibility in real estate, and continue to take advantage of excellent opportunities in the U.S. and internationally that we believe will benefit our business long term. At TJX, being a low-cost operator allows us to offer customers great values while maintaining strong profitability. We have seen the benefit of our major cost reduction initiatives over the past several years and in 2012, we are planning $50 million to $75 million in cost reductions. Underpinning our confidence in the sustainability of our profitable growth is our financial strength and flexibility. Our strong operations and low cost model have enabled us to deliver superior financial returns that are among the highest in retail.