Continuing weakness in the women's specialty apparel segment has pushed first quarter profit down 9.6% at value-priced women's fashion retailer The Cato Corporation.

The Charlotte, North Carolina based retailer, said net income slipped to $16.9m or $0.58 per share, from $18.7m or $0.59 per share in the same period last year.
The lower fall in earnings per share is due to last year's repurchase of over 3m shares the company said in a statement.

Sales at the Cato and It's Fashion chains rose 1% to $225.8m from $224.1m last time, but same-store sales were down by 2%.

"Gross margin was above expectations due to tight inventory management and somewhat offset the impact of the 2% decrease in comp store sales," said John Cato, chairman, president, and chief executive officer.

The company expects comparable store sales to be in the range of down 3% to flat for the second quarter and for the balance of the year.

Second quarter earnings per share are forecast in the range of $0.28 to $0.33 versus $0.39 last year, and for the full year down to $0.80 to $0.95 from $1.03 last year.