Leading US specialty retailer of value-priced apparel and accessories for young women, Charlotte Russe Holding Inc, on Thursday posted a 20 per cent jump in net sales to $111.9 million for the first quarter of fiscal 2002.

However, comparable store sales fell 12.1 per cent during the quarter ended December 29, compared to a rise of 3.7 per cent for the first quarter of fiscal 2001. Operating income for the period dropped nine per cent to $12.3m from $13.6m, while net income fell eight per cent to $7.4m from the same quarter last year.

Chairman and CEO Bernard Zeichner said: "At the end of September, we anticipated that this year's holiday season would be difficult for most specialty retailers. We established plans to maintain lower inventories per store during December than last year in order to avoid carrying excess goods at the season's end to protect our merchandise margins.

"Without question, we would have hoped for stronger sales even in this difficult retail environment. Florida proved to be one of our most difficult markets and helped contribute to the comparable store sales decline of 12.1 percentage points.

"The comparable store sales decline is impacting our expense ratios, especially rent and occupancy expenses as a percentage of sales. All told, the increase in store occupancy expense ratios reduced our reported operating margin by about three per cent of sales."