NEW YORK CITY-Strong sales of its trend-right fashions, expanding gross margins and tighter controls on its inventory helped Ann Taylor Stores Inc. more than double its profit during the first quarter of 2006 as earnings rose to $38.9 million, or 53 cents a share, compared to last year’s income of $16.9 million, or 24 cents a share.

Sales for the locally based fashion retailer were up sharply during the three months ending April 29, 2006, surging by 16.7% to $566.2 million from $476.4 million in the same period a year ago. Sales at stores opened for at least a year climbed 5.6%, a marked improvement against last year’s 3.1% decline. The company currently operates 758 stores in 46 states, Washington DC, and Puerto Rico and plans to add 10 Ann Taylor stores, 60 LOFT locations and five Ann Taylor Factory stores to its retail lineup during 2006.

“We have been working diligently over the past year to execute on initiatives designed to deliver profitable growth by providing our client with brand-appropriate and trend-right product while carefully managing our inventory,” Kay Krill, president and CEO, said in announcing the first quarter numbers. “Our first-quarter performance was outstanding.”

Based on the early year performance, Krill said the company will raise its full-year earnings per share guidance by 10 cents per diluted share to a range of between $1.70 to $1.75, above Wall Street estimates of $1.69 per share.

Ann Taylor’s LOFT division was the clear winner in the numbers game with quarterly sales increasing 22.4% to $273.6 million. The company’s flagship Ann Taylor stores brought in sales of $221.5 million or 7.6% more than during the first quarter of 2005. By division, comparable store sales for the quarter rose 7.4% for Ann Taylor and 4.7% for Ann Taylor LOFT compared to last year’s decreases of 4.9% and 1.5% respectively.

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