By  on November 19, 2010

Sales of AnnTaylor Stores Corp.’s upscale merchandise swelled in the third quarter, helping its profits climb and lifting the women’s apparel retailer’s stock 8.5 percent to $25.77 at the end of trading Friday.“At the Ann Taylor division, we have done a lot of things internally, and we have a lot of wind at our backs externally,” president and chief executive officer Kay Krill told WWD. “The aspirational-luxury and luxury consumers are spending again, but the middle-income consumer is holding back.”The newly updated, “modernized” and “chic” “ready-to-work” collection at the firm’s upscale namesake chain fueled business last quarter, said Krill, who noted that last year the company’s value-priced Loft division benefited from strong demand for casualwear. Now, however, shoppers are reevaluating their closets and buying higher-priced apparel, as well as fashion accessories such as jewelry, a category that “majorly contributed” to the company’s sales, Krill said.For the quarter ended Oct. 30, the retailer reported profits of $24.2 million, or 41 cents a diluted share, compared with profits of $2.1 million, or 3 cents a share, in the year-ago quarter. Excluding one-time items, the company earned 42 cents a share, comfortably beating the analysts’ consensus estimate of 34 cents.Net sales grew 9.3 percent to $505.3 million from $462.4 million in 2009, as quarterly comparable-store sales rose 11.7 percent. Analysts polled by Yahoo were expecting EPS of 34 cents on sales of $492.8 million. At Ann Taylor, revenue gained 14.5 percent to $223.2 million as comps jumped 21.9 percent. Sales at Loft dipped 5.7 percent to $282.1 million, and its comps gained 4.5 percent. Gross margin slipped to 57.2 percent of sales from 57.3 percent a year earlier. An increase in promotions going forward could impact margins at Loft, Krill said, which is expected to be “highly promotional.” But this pressure should be offset by more full-priced selling at Ann Taylor, which the ceo expects to be less promotional than last year.The retailer forecast net sales in the fourth quarter would approach $500 million, with comps increasing in the mid- to high-single-digit percentage range. This includes double-digit growth at Ann Taylor and low-single-digit comps at Loft.For the year, the retailer anticipates net sales of about $1.97 billion and positive comps at both divisions. Wall Street is looking for fourth-quarter sales of $495 million and annual sales of $1.95 billion.

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