NEW YORK -- Ann Taylor Stores Corp. reported earnings more than doubled in the first quarter, fueled by better sales at full price.

In the quarter ended April 30, earnings rose to $8.06 million, or 36 cents a share, from $3.3 million, or 15 cents, a year earlier. Sales climbed 20.9 percent, to $145.3 million from $120.2 million, with same-store sales ahead 8.6 percent.

"Our solid first-quarter performance reflects our customers' acceptance of our merchandise assortments and the contribution of our new and expanded stores," said Sally Frame Kasaks, Ann Taylor's chairman.

Kasaks said gross margins improved to 47.4 percent of sales from 45.6 percent as a result of a higher level of full-price sales. She added that selling, general and administrative expenses were trimmed to 32.3 percent of sales from 33.3 percent a year earlier.

Inventories increased 15.4 percent at the quarter's end, to $72.6 million from $62.9 million.

Ann Taylor operates 234 regular stores, having opened three regular stores and expanding two existing units in the quarter. It also has 11 factory outlet stores, having added two in the quarter.

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