NEW YORK -- Strength in junior apparel was among the factors generating double-digit increases on both the top and bottom line at off-pricer Ross Stores Inc.Net income swelled 37.5 percent to $47.7 million, or 59 cents a diluted share, from $34.7 million, or 43 cents, a year ago.Sales of $819.6 million for the period ended May 4 made for a 21.5 percent improvement over year-ago sales of $674.4 million. Total inventories were up 11 percent while same-store inventories were flat for the quarter.Comparable-store revenues grew 10 percent. Junior apparel posted the strongest gains with an almost 30 percent comp increase while home was up in the high-teens range. Men's apparel and shoes, which were weak last year, rebounded in the first quarter with same-store sales increases in the mid- to high-single-digit range."In the junior's business there's plenty of merchandise available," said chief executive Michael Balmuth on a conference call, adding that dresses also have been performing "very well."Balmuth was "very pleased" with how women's apparel has performed. "It's a function of us being better invested in name brands and having a better balance of career and casual merchandise," he noted.He added, "Our accelerated expansion program remains on schedule, as we opened a record 20 new stores for the first quarter. These are the first of about 55 net new stores we plan to add in 2002." The Newark, Calif.-based firm operated 470 stores at the close of the quarter.Responding to an analyst's question, Balmuth noted the firm's increased market share was most likely "coming a bit from everywhere, probably more from the department stores than from everywhere else.""

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