Off-price retailer Ross Stores Inc has posted better-than-expected first quarter sales and earnings, helped by strict inventory and expense management, and has raised its guidance for the full year.

Pleasanton, California-based said net earnings for the quarter rose 18.7% to $79.5m from $67.0m in the same period last year, with earnings per share up 25% to $0.60 from $0.48.

A real estate settlement added about $o.02 per share during this year's first quarter.

Sales for the 13 weeks to 3 May grew 10% to $1.556bn, with comparable store sales up 3% over the prior year. Operating margin grew about 45 basis points to 8.2%.

Michael Balmuth, vice chairman, president and chief executive officer, said: "Business benefited as customers responded favourably to the fresh and exciting assortments of name brand bargains we offered.

"Dresses and shoes were the top performing merchandise categories during the period."

He continued: "Strong execution of our merchandising strategies, combined with strict inventory and expense management, were the primary drivers of our ahead-of-plan earnings during the quarter."
Looking ahead, the company is forecasting second quarter same store sales gains of 1% to 3% and earnings per share up 16% to 27% to between $0.43 and $0.47.

For the full year, earnings per share are projected in the range of $2.19 to $2.29, which would represent growth of 15% to 21% over last year's $1.90 per share.

Ross Stores operates 864 Ross Dress for Less stores and 54 dd's Discounts locations selling in-season, name brand and designer apparel, accessories and footwear.