NEW YORK -- Dayton Hudson Corp., J.C. Penney Co. and Kohl's Corp. reported impressive first-quarter results Tuesday, topping Wall Street estimates in each case.

Penney's, based in Plano, Tex., reported that its earnings increased 29.8 percent, to $223 million, or 84 cents a share, up from comparable earnings of $172 million, or 65 cents, in the year-earlier period. Wall Street expected 77 cents to 81 cents a share.

Net earnings in the year-ago quarter came to $206 million, or 78 cents a share, after a gain of $51 million from an accounting change and a charge of $17 million for debt retirement.

Total sales increased 9.7 percent, to $4.35 billion from $3.96 billion.

Department store sales increased 7.6 percent, to $3.1 billion, with same-store sales ahead 7.2 percent. Catalog sales climbed 19.5 percent, to $829 million.

Top sellers were athletic apparel, casual apparel, jewelry, women's shoes, young men's, girl's and outerwear.

"They did a good job on controlling costs and sales came in a little higher than expected," said Edward F. Johnson, at Johnson Redbook Service.

DH, based in Minneapolis, reported earnings rose 31 percent, to $39 million, or 48 cents a share, from $30 million, or 35 cents. On average, Wall Street estimated 43 cents a share. Sales climbed 11 percent, to $4.5 billion from $4.04 billion, with same-store sales up 5 percent.

Lower prices helped reduce markdowns at the Target, Mervyn's and department store divisions.

Strong sellers at the department store division included shorts, knits, velvet dresses, white and neutral-colored apparel, and linen fabrications in women's apparel. Sales rose 6 percent, to $686 million with same-store sales up 6 percent.

Target's sales increased 15 percent, to $2.8 billion, and same-store sales rose 7 percent.

Mervyn's had flat operating profits while sales increased 2 percent, to $960 million, and same-store sales dipped 1 percent. The company noted that customers are responding to lower prices and an increased fashion mix.

Kohl's, based in Milwaukee, reported earnings surged 51 percent, propelled by hefty same-store sales gains.

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