NEW YORK — Shares of Sports Authority Inc. reached a 52-week high in midday trading Monday — and locked in an 8 percent increase for the day — after the company dramatically raised earnings guidance.

For the third quarter ending Nov. 1, the Englewood, Colo.-based sporting goods retailer said it expects earnings of between 13 cents and 15 cents a diluted share compared with earlier guidance of between 3 cents and 5 cents. Total sales for the period are expected to come in around $550 million with comparable-store sales increases in the 1 to 2 percent range.

Doug Morton, vice chairman and chief executive officer, credited the success to continued positive comps at both Gart Sports Company and Sports Authority stores. “This performance reflects how well the merger integration process has gone to date,” said Morton.The two chains completed a merger in August.

Wedbush Morgan Securities analyst Gary Holdsworth said in a research report that benefits of the merger were already being seen in the company’s financial performance and that future synergies would lead to “substantial margin expansion opportunities.” Wedbush reiterated a “buy” rating.

For fiscal 2003 the company now expects earnings of between $1.98 and $2.03 a share, up from previous guidance of between $1.85 and $1.90. Estimates exclude any impact from extraordinary charges associated with the merger.

After reaching a 52-week high of $38.20 in intraday trading on the New York Stock Exchange Monday, shares closed up $2.79 at $37.79.

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