Leading clothing retailer Talbots Inc on Wednesday posted a fall in first quarter net profit as it was hurt by soft sales amid unseasonal weather and higher costs.

The Massachusetts-based operator of 921 stores said in a statement it made $29.4 million, or 51 cents per share, in the 13 weeks to May 3, compared with $35m, or 57 cents per share, in the year-ago period.

Total sales rose one per cent to $395m from $391.3m last year but same-store sales slipped 4.3 per cent. It added catalogue sales fell five per cent to $65.8m from $69.6m in the prior year period.

The retailer also said it plans to open 92 new stores in 2003 of which around a third were opened in the first quarter.

Chairman, president and CEO, Arnold Zetcher, commented: "As we stated early in the quarter, the effect of February's severe weather resulted in a significant drop in sales, which we did not expect to recapture by the end of the period.

"However, we are pleased that a better-than-anticipated performance in March and our on-plan results in April enabled us to offset much of the weakness, and the company was able to generate first quarter earnings per share at the high end of our previously announced range."

He added: "Looking to the second quarter, as previously stated, we are hopeful that the improved regular-price selling trends that we experienced in the later part of April will continue.

"However, given the level of uncertainty in the environment, we believe it is prudent to remain cautious and to wait until we are further into the quarter to better gauge our sales trends and earnings expectations."