Leading women's clothing chain Chico's FAS Inc on Tuesday posted a huge 74.7 per cent year-on-year jump in third quarter net profit on the back of higher sales, improved margins and a new distribution centre.

The Florida-based operator of 372 stores reported a net profit of $15.5 million versus $8.9m in the year-ago period with revenue up a whopping 46.1 per cent to $137.3m from $94m in 2001.

Chico's said quarterly same-stores soared 18.2 per cent and revealed November same-store sales were up 11.3 per cent. It added it expects fourth quarter margins to improve slightly from the year-ago period.

Chico's CEO Marvin Gralnick commented: "The third quarter net income increase of 74.7 per cent represents our 20th consecutive quarter with more than a 45 per cent improvement in net income (excluding last year's third quarter).

"We realised improvements in both our gross and operating margins, and added $21.2m in cash and marketable securities. Also, we began operation of our new distribution centre outside of Atlanta and we are on track to launch our new concept 'Pazo' early next year."

He continued: "We also made considerable progress with our company-wide new software initiatives, which are scheduled for implementation through mid-year 2003."

"Our November same store sales increase of 11.3 per cent, in spite of an unfavourable calendar shift, indicates an initial strong acceptance of our Holiday collections.

"In the fourth quarter, we expect to see slightly improved operating margins over last year's fourth quarter, and we are looking forward to the launch of Pazo in the first quarter of next year."