Ross Stores Inc. met analysts’ expectations for double-digit growth in sales and earnings in the third quarter but provided a note of caution about holiday sales.

The Pleasanton, Calif.-based off-price retailer stuck by its projections for same-store sales growth of between 1 and 2 percent in the fourth quarter as well as earnings of between 99 cents and $1.04 a diluted share.

“As we enter the important fourth quarter, our merchants are doing a terrific job of delivering plenty of bargain-priced gifts and fashions for the family and the home,” said Michael Balmuth, vice chairman and chief executive officer, on a Thursday morning conference call. “That said, during the holiday season it is always difficult to predict how promotional other retailers may become or how current macroeconomic and political uncertainties may impact consumer spending.”


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Ross has enjoyed stellar comparable-store sales results throughout the year, posting year-to-date comps of 7 percent and falling just one point short of that figure in the third quarter. The 7 percent increase matches the mark for the fourth quarter of 2011, making for what Balmuth called “the most challenging comparison of the year. So while we hope to do better, we believe it is prudent to maintain our prior fourth-quarter forecast for both sales and earnings.”

In the three months ended Oct. 27, net income rose 10.8 percent to $159.5 million, or 72 cents a diluted share, from $144 million, or 63 cents, in the comparable 2011 period. Sales were ahead 10.6 percent to $2.26 billion from $2.05 billion. Gross margin fell 10 basis points, to 27.1 percent of sales from 27.2 percent a year ago.

The 6 percent increase in third-quarter comps came against a 5 percent increase in the third quarter of 2011. On Tuesday, The TJX Cos. Inc. reported third-quarter comps expanded 7 percent. TJX is the largest and Ross the second largest U.S.-based off-price retailer.

For the nine months, net income was up 18.3 percent to $550.2 million, or $2.46 a diluted share, as sales grew 12.1 percent, to $6.96 billion.

After falling sharply in the morning following disclosure of the results, Ross shares ended the day down 74 cents, or 1.4 percent, to $54.39.