NEW YORK — Bebe Stores Inc. reported a 19.5 percent increase in third-quarter earnings, matching analysts’ projections.

In the three months ended April 1, the specialty retailer earned $13.3 million, or 14 cents a diluted share, compared with a profit of $11.1 million, or 12 cents, last year. Net sales rose 13.7 percent to $132.8 million, while same-store sales were up 4.7 percent.

Gross profit margin expanded to 46.9 as a percent of sales from 46.8 percent in the year-ago third quarter. Bebe, which reported earnings Thursday after the close of the market, said the improved gross profit was attributed to a $3.2 million noncash adjustment related to lease accounting from the third quarter 2005, which was offset by lower merchandise margins in this year’s quarter.

In the nine months, the Brisbane, Calif.-based firm earned $51.9 million, or 55 cents, up from $46.8 million, or 50 cents, a year ago. Net sales were $426.9 million up from $372.6 million last year.

Looking to the fourth quarter, the company expects earnings per share to be 18 to 22 cents. Same-store sales are seen up in the low-single digits.

Analysts are calling for a profit of 23 cents in the fourth quarter. The company earned 21 cents in the fourth quarter 2005.

Shares of Bebe closed up 1.5 percent at $19.80 Thursday on the Nasdaq. The stock fell as much as 12 percent in Friday trading.

This story first appeared in the May 1, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.