Updated from 10:28 a.m. EDT

In the

continuing release of retailer earnings,

Talbots

(TLB)

met Wall Street's heightened earnings expectations and reported a 68% increase in earnings per share on Wednesday, ascribing the strong number to its ability to sell much of its inventory without having to mark down products.

For the first quarter ended April 29, net income rose to $32.7 million, or $1.04 a diluted share, from $19.4 million, or 62 cents a share, a year earlier, matching the consensus estimate of analysts polled by

First Call/Thomson Financial

.

Net sales rose to $357.8 million from $293.0 million a year ago, with retail store sales rising 21% to $295.4 million and catalog sales up 26% to $62.4 million.

Earlier this month, Talbots said it would beat the consensus estimate of 90 cents by 12 cents to 14 cents because of healthy same-store sales growth in April. The analyst community subsequently raised its expectations.

Arnold Zetcher, president and chief executive of Talbots, said in a statement Wednesday that "significantly better-than-expected sales trends" would boost May growth in same-store sales to at least the mid-teens.

He also announced that his company, based in Hingham, Mass., will open three more Talbots Woman stores than originally planned, with nine instead of six openings for fiscal 2000. Talbots Woman specializes in clothing for women who wear sizes 12 through 24.

Shares of Talbots rose 1 3/16, or 2%, to 53 15/16 in Wednesday midday trading. (Talbot's closed up 7/8, or 2%, at 53 5/8.)

Three other retailers --

Bon-Ton Stores

(BONT)

,

Ross Stores

(ROST) - Get Report

and

Consolidated Stores

(CNS) - Get Report

, which operates a range of stores including toy store

K*B Toys

-- also reported first-quarter results.

For the quarter ended April 29, Bon-Ton reported a net loss of $5.1 million, or 34 cents a diluted share, compared to a loss of $2.9 million, or 19 cents a share, a year earlier. That loss was a penny less than expected by analysts. Excluding the effect of a $400,000 extraordinary after-tax charge, the loss per share for the first quarter of last year came in at 17 cents a share. Revenue at the York, Pa.-based company rose to $152.1 million from $142.4 million a year ago.

Michael Gleim, vice chairman and chief operating officer of Bon-Ton, blamed the poor results on unseasonably cool weather and higher costs for the clearing of seasonal merchandise. "Consequently, we were unable to achieve the planned operating leverage that contributed to the loss of 34 cents per share," he said in a statement. "We continue to review our merchandise assortments, marketing strategies and expense control opportunities to better position the company going forward."

For the quarter ended April 29, earnings at Ross Stores rose to $40.8 million, or 47 cents a diluted share, from $34.2 million, or 37 cents a share, a year earlier. Revenue rose to $633 million from $551 million a year ago. The consensus estimate of analysts polled by First Call/Thomson Financial was 47 cents, a consensus that was raised from 45 cents at the beginning of the month after the Newark, Calif.-based discount clothing retailer said earnings would come in above expectations on the back of strong revenue growth and favorable expense trends.

For the quarter ended April 29, Consolidated Stores reported a net loss of $13.2 million, or 12 cents a diluted share, compared to a loss of $3.7 million, or 3 cents a share, a year earlier. The loss was 3 cents less than expected. Revenue rose to $1.0 billion from $923.7 million a year ago.

The company, based in Columbus, Ohio, said it is "comfortable" with earnings estimates of 90 cents a share to 95 cents a share for the current fiscal year.

Shares of Bon-Ton were unchanged at 2 3/16 in Wednesday midday trading, while shares of Consolidated fell 1/8, or 1%, to 12 3/16 and shares of Ross were flat at 22 9/16. (Bon-Ton closed up 1/4, or 11%, at 2 7/16 while Consolidated closed down 3/8, or 3%, at 11 15/16 and Ross closed down 1 13/16, or 8%, at 20 3/4.)