Off-price retailer Ross Stores Inc reported a year-on-year slump in third-quarter earnings due to sliding same-store sales, higher markdowns and problems with its core merchandising system.

The company reported earnings of $38.1 million for the third-quarter of 2004, compared to $50.5m for the comparable period last year.

Earnings for the third quarter include a $.01 per share gain on the sale of the company's former corporate office and distribution centre in Newark, California.

Third-quarter sales grew 5 per cent to $1.028 billion, from $977m for the third quarter last year. Comparable store sales for the period declined 3 per cent from 2003.

For the nine months ended 30 October 2004, earnings per share totalled $.79, compared to $.99 for the same period in 2003. Net earnings for the nine months were $119.2m, compared to $154.4m for the same period in the prior year.

Sales for the first nine months rose 7 per cent to $3.028bn, with same store sales down 1 per cent from the prior-year period.

Michael Balmuth, vice chairman and chief executive officer said: "We continued to make progress during the third quarter in remedying the merchant reporting issues related to our core merchandising system, and we are currently on track with our target of completing this work by the end of the fiscal year."

Balmuth added that then company expects unit growth of 14 per cent by the end of the fiscal year, which includes the first ten dd's Discount stores that opened during the third quarter.