NEW YORK — Kohl’s Corp. was firing on all cylinders in the first quarter: Earnings, gross profits and sales came in better than the company expected.

For the quarter ended April 29, the Menomonee Falls, Wis., company increased net income 34.1 percent, to $167.2 million, or 48 cents per diluted share, from $124.7 million, or 36 cents, in the same period last year on a sales gain of 16.1 percent, to $3.2 billion from $2.7 billion.

Same-store sales rose 6.9 percent during the quarter. The gross margin rate jumped to 36.1 percent from 35.8 percent in the prior year’s quarter.

“We are extremely pleased with our performance for the first quarter,” said Larry Montgomery, chairman and chief executive officer, in a statement. “We exceeded our guidance for both sales and net income.”

The ceo added, “All lines of business posted strong results, as did all regions of the country. At the same time, we saw continued improvement in our gross margin rate and experienced significant expense leverage on our sales increase.”

Due to the strength of first-quarter results, the retailer raised its full-year earnings guidance to $2.91 to $3.02 per share from $2.74 to $2.87.

During the quarter, Kohl’s wrapped up the sale of its private label credit card business to JPMorgan Chase for $1.6 billion. Proceeds are earmarked for buying back shares, expanding the store base and other corporate uses. The company’s board has already approved a $2 billion share repurchase program.

Kohl’s said it opened 17 stores during the first quarter. At the close of the period, the retailer operated 749 stores in 43 states.

This story first appeared in the May 12, 2006 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.