NEW YORK -- Nine months after emerging from bankruptcy, Stage Stores Inc. posted increased first-quarter earnings and sales.For the three months ended May 4, income was $17.8 million, or 82 cents a diluted share, versus $6.3 million, or 22 cents, in the year-ago quarter. Absent of charges and expenses relating to the company's emergence from bankruptcy proceedings in August 2001, first quarter 2002 income was $5.6 million greater than the pro-forma income of $12.2 million, or 57 cents, a year ago. Sales rose 5.7 percent to $206.7 million from $195.5 million, while comparable store sales jumped 7 percent.Jim Scarborough, chairman, president and chief executive officer, said in a statement, "Our results reflect strong performance in nearly every category of business as well as our continued emphasis on maintaining the appropriate merchandising mix and inventory levels."In the quarter, the company also initiated a roll-out of a new point-of-sale cash register system designed to enhance customer service, speed up the check-out process and improve data capture. The company operated 342 stores versus the 347 in the year-ago quarter. Its nameplates are Stage Stores, Palais Royal and Bealls.The company said it was "confident" it would meet with the high-end of its previously reported earnings guidance of between $52 million and $57 million, or $2.60 in earnings per share, for fiscal 2002.Mike McCreery, executive vice president and chief financial officer, said that the guidance "represents an almost 16 percent increase over last year's pro forma earnings of $49.2 million, or $2.25" a diluted share.

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