COLUMBUS, OH-Discount retailer Big Lots Inc. said it will close more stores than expected this year, even as increased sales, improved efficiencies and earlier cost cuts helped first quarter profits soar by 76%.

Steve Fishman, the company’s chairman and CEO, said in a conference call that the retailer, which operates about 1,400 stores in 47 states, will close underperforming stores in areas where it can’t get lease rates to meet its return expectations. The company closed 130 stores earlier this year.”We’ll only be renewing leases that meet our return requirements,” Fishman said. “If we don’t get the lease terms to enable the store to reach our return hurdle, we’ll close the store and walk away. It’s just that simple.”

Better control over inventory at Big Lots stores and its distribution center has helped streamline the company’s costs, and further improvements should help the bottom line even further, he said.

“We’re serious about lowering the cost structure,” Fishman noted.For the quarter ending April 29, 2006, Big Lots reported a 76% surge in profits due to increased sales, particularly in consumables and home furnishings, the company said.

For the quarter ending, net income was $13.7 million, or 12 cents per share, more than $6 million above the $7.8 million, or seven cents per share, earned during the first quarter of 2005. Earnings from continuing operations doubled to $14.5 million, or 13 cents per share, from $7.27 million, or six cents per share, from a year earlier.

Wall Street analysts had predicted a quarterly profit of five cents per share. Sales rose to $1.09 billion from $1.04 billion during the quarter with comparable store sales up 2.5%.

The company also raised its forecast for the remainder of the year. Although company officials said they expect a loss from continuing operations of between seven cents and 10 cents per share in the second quarter, comparable store sales are expected to increase by from 1% to 4%, based on net sales in the $1.02-billion to $1.05-billion range. Analysts estimate a second-quarter loss of eight cents per share but forecast full-year profits for the company to be 37 cents per share.

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