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AnnTaylor Shares Jump on Raised Forecast

AnnTaylor Storesraised its first-quarter earnings forecast on Monday, citing lower inventories and improvement at its LOFT chain, sending shares of the women's clothing retailer up 11.5 percent.

Gene J. Puskar

But the company expressed caution about the rest of the year, leaving its full-year profit forecast unchanged and shelving plans to launch a new store concept targeting baby boomers.

Excluding restructuring costs, the company said it expects first-quarter earnings of 45 cents to 47 cents per share, up from a prior forecast of 35 cents to 40 cents.

Based on preliminary figures for the quarter, which ended on May 3, AnnTaylor said net sales rose 2 percent to $592 million.

Analysts on average were expecting earnings of 36 cents per share on revenue of $589.7 million, according to Reuters Estimates.

The company said its inventory per square foot was down about 15 percent at the end of the quarter.

New York-based AnnTaylor also cited better expense management and the impact of its share buyback program for its higher forecast.

Sales at stores open at least a year, or same-store sales, fell 4.3 percent in the first quarter, compared with analysts' average forecast for a decline of 2.8 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.

An 11.5 percent decline at its namesake Ann Taylor stores offset a 0.7 percent increase at LOFT stores, whose clothes are more casual and less expensive.

The company did not change its full-year forecast for earnings, excluding special items, of $1.80 to $1.90 per share.

"We remain cautious about our outlook for the balance of the year, given the highly volatile and uncertain nature of the current economic environment," said Chief Executive Officer Kay Krill.

Krill said the company has decided not to pursue its new store concept at the present time, but is moving forward aggressively with the launch of LOFT outlet stores this summer.

AnnTaylor announced last May that it planned to launch a new store concept in the autumn of 2008, but declined to give details. In August it said the new concept would target baby boomers, most of whom are in their 40s and 50s. In January the company said it would delay the launch until next year, given the macroeconomic environment and retail slowdown.

AnnTaylor shares were up $2.83 to $27.38 in morning trade on the New York Stock Exchange.

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