Aggressive promotions and improved merchandise selection have helped push JC Penney Co third-quarter profit to $123 million, or 42 cents per share, compared to $31 million, or 9 cents per share, in the third quarter last year. Earnings were also boosted by a $34 million gain from the sale of the company's direct marketing business.

The parent of JC Penney department stores and the Eckerd drugstore chain on Tuesday said total sales rose to $7.87 billion from $7.73 billion a year earlier. Sales at department stores open at least one year rose 3.9 per cent from last year's third quarter.

JC Penney said department stores had been especially strong in October, with good sales of apparel, jewellery and home items. The retailer, which is in the second year of a five-year turnaround plan, said heavy marketing and a demand for winter clothing and seasonal merchandise were responsible for better-than-expected October sales.

Chairman and chief executive Allen Questrom said: "Our operating plan for the upcoming holiday selling season has not changed. We have considered the current economic environment but continue to expect operating earnings of about 60 cents per share, compared to 35 cents per share in last year's fourth quarter."