updated 5/17/2005 12:24:44 PM ET 2005-05-17T16:24:44

Department-store chain JC Penney Co. on Tuesday posted a more than fourfold rise in profit for the first quarter, helped by improved sales and sharply higher Internet business.

Quarterly earnings jumped to $172 million, or 63 cents per share, from $41 million, or 13 cents, in the first quarter a year ago. On a continuing operations basis, prior-year earnings were 38 cents per share, the company said.

The latest results beat by 2 cents a share the average analyst estimate from a survey by Thomson Financial.

Sales totaled $4.19 billion, a gain of 4 percent from $4.03 billion and ahead of analysts' estimate for $4.17 billion.

At stores open at least a year, sales rose 3 percent, compared with growth of 9.5 percent the year before. Catalog and Internet sales also expanded by 5.4 percent, with Internet sales alone climbing 35 percent, JC Penney said.

Second-quarter earnings are forecast in the range of 25 cents to 30 cents per share — including about 3 cents in charges for retiring debt and expensing stock options — with same-store sales expected to increase at a low single-digit percentage rate. For the year, JC Penney projects income of $2.96 to $3.08 per share, including charges of about 13 cents.

Analysts expect a second-quarter profit of 31 cents per share and annual earnings of $3.17 per share. Those estimates usually exclude extraordinary gains and charges.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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