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J. JILL SPLITS STOCK 3-FOR-2

NEW YORK -- The J. Jill Group announced Tuesday a 3-for-2 stock split in the form of a stock dividend to attract a broader reach of investors.<P>The Quincy, Mass.-based specialty retailer, which markets to women over 35 through its 63 stores, catalogs...

NEW YORK — The J. Jill Group announced Tuesday a 3-for-2 stock split in the form of a stock dividend to attract a broader reach of investors.

The Quincy, Mass.-based specialty retailer, which markets to women over 35 through its 63 stores, catalogs and Web site, had about 12.9 million shares outstanding on May 31. The split is payable June 28 to shareholders of record on June 14.

Gordon R. Cooke, president and chief executive, said in a statement, “The decision by our board to split the stock reflects our ongoing commitment to maximizing shareholder value and underscores the continued confidence in our long-term growth prospects. Furthermore, the split should make our shares more attractive to a wider range of investors and enhance the liquidity of the stock.”

Strength in full-price spring and summer merchandise sales, new stores, and prudent spending enabled Jill to deliver the most profitable first quarter in its history. For the quarter ended March 30, profits more than doubled to $2.7 million, or 21 cents a diluted share, compared with year-ago income of $796,000, or 7 cents. Sales increased by 15.8 percent to $73.4 million from $63.3 million reported in the prior year.

The retailer also raised its outlook for the second quarter and full year when it announced first-quarter results. For the second quarter, Jill is targeting sales to range between $81 and $83 million and earnings per diluted share to range between 26 to 28 cents, versus the previous consensus estimate of 24 cents and year-ago results of 21 cents. For the year, the company is forecasting sales to increase between 15 and 20 percent over 2001 levels, with diluted eps ranging from $1.32 to $1.37, compared to the prior year’s $1.05. Jill said it plans to open 30 to 35 new stores by the end of the year, in addition to four opened during the the first quarter.