Byline: Jennifer Weitzman

NEW YORK — A forecast of a sunnier spring led J. Jill to a new 52-week high Monday during an otherwise lackluster day of trading.
Shares closed up 14.4 percent, or $3.36, to end the day at $26.70 on Nasdaq trading. Its previous high of $25.85 was reached Feb. 20. Other retailers who established highs for the trailing year Monday included ShopKo and Jos. A. Bank, on the strength of higher earnings, and Saks Inc., Dillard’s, Bon-Ton, Dress Barn and Cato.
With shoppers giving a nod of approval to J. Jill’s new spring line and fewer markdowns, the company doubled its first-quarter earnings-per-share forecast to a range of 16 to 18 cents, well above previous guidance of 8 to 10 cents and consensus estimates of 9 cents. In the first quarter of 2001, J. Jill earned 7 cents a share. The company also said it expects net sales to ring in roughly at $72 million during the current quarter.
For the year, EPS is slated to reach $1.24 to $1.29, versus $1.05 last year, on a net sales increase of 15 to 20 percent.
“The strong acceptance of our spring product line, combined with very low levels of promotional activity versus our plan, enabled us to significantly exceed our original earnings expectations,” Gordon R. Cooke, president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “We entered fiscal 2002 with very clean inventories and a merchandise assortment that was well received at retail and within our direct-mail and e-commerce channels. “
Meanwhile, ShopKo Stores Inc. rose 7.2 percent, reaching their highest point since July 2000 and closing at $17.15. Other retailers hitting a 12-month peak Monday were: Saks Inc., up 28 cents to $14.07; Dillard’s, up 78 cents to $25.16; Bon-Ton, up 5 cents to $3.90; Dress Barn, up 91 cents to $29.81; Cato, up 60 cents to $23.40, and Jos. A. Bank, up 72 cents to $11.47.

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