Fast Retailing has lifted its full-year forecasts after profits for the nine months to May jumped by 24%, helped by better-than-expected sales at its low-cost Uniqlo casual clothing brand.

Net income rose to JPY49.6bn (US$534m) thanks to a 17.2% year-on-year hike in net sales to JPY537.0bn. Operating income was up 28.3% to JPY97.1bn.

In the third quarter alone, profit climbed 23.6% to JPY14.1bn and sales were up 26.7% to JPY179.6bn.  

The company's core Uniqlo stores in Japan - which account for around 80% of total revenues - saw sales rise 22.8% in the three months to May.

Same stores sales at the chain, which operates 757 direct-run stores, leapt 15.4% year-on-year, helped by extra advertising, higher inventories of core basic items, and innovative products like Bratop and soft tailored jackets.

Sales promotions "in a tough consumer environment" meant Uniqlo Japan gross margins fell 1.5 points.

Significantly the company also achieved a profit at its Uniqlo International operation, boosted by growing sales in Asian, including mainland China and South Korea, and lower losses at its UK operation.

Buoyed by this success Fast Retailing is now mulling expansion into neighbouring South East Asian nations such as Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines and also India, Vietnam and Australia.

At its value-priced g.u. stores in Japan, quarterly sales were helped by the launch of jeans costing just JPY990 (US$10.6).

But it is slashing its Footpark shoe chain to just 10 stores by the end of January 2010, in a move that will see the closure of around 200 stores and enable it to focus on its View footwear operation.

Among its global brands, business at French-based subsidiaries Comptoir Des Cotonniers and Princesse Tam.Tam saw revenue drop 20% and income drop 80% in yen terms - although this was "according to plan", the company said.

For the for the full year to August, Fast Retailing now expects sales to rise 16.3% to JPY682.0bn, with operating income up 23.4% to JPY108.0bn and profit increasing 19.5% to JPY52.0bn.