Off-price retailer Stein Mart Inc has more than doubled its first quarter profit after tight inventory control, better margins, and cost cuts helped offset lower sales.

The Jacksonville, Florida based firm earned $16.1m or $0.38 per share in the three months to 2 May, up 130% from last year's $7.0m or $0.17 per share.

Net sales fell 9.2% to $319.6m from $352.1m, and comparable store sales dropped 8.0%.

Gross profit increased to 30.3% of net sales from 27.8% a year ago, helped by increased mark-up  and lower markdowns.

Selling, general and administrative (SG&A) expenses fell to $79.9m from $91.5m after the company axed nearly 200 jobs earlier this year.

"Despite a very difficult sales environment, first quarter earnings improved due to tightly controlled inventories that enhanced merchandise margins, and significant expense reductions," said David H Stovall Jr, president and CEO.

"These initiatives produced a positive cash flow of $32m and allowed us to end the period debt free."

Stein Mart operates 275 stores selling fashion apparel for women and men, as well as accessories, gifts, linens and shoes.