Charming Shoppes ( CHRS), an operator of women's plus-size retail stores, reported lower first-quarter earnings, although results came in a penny ahead of analyst estimates. The company cited weak consumer demand. In the quarter ended May 3, Charming Shoppes earned $9.69 million, or 8 cents a share. In the same quarter last year, the company earned $17.27 million, or 14 cents a share, before a change in accounting. Analysts were expecting the company to earn 7 cents a share in the latest quarter. After the effect of the change in accounting, the company reported a loss of $31.83 million, or 24 cents a share, in the year-ago period. Sales were down 11% to $564.3 million and comparable store sales also fell, down 6%. "We continue to be affected by a weak economic environment, resulting in soft consumer demand for apparel. As a result, we did not meet our sales plan for the quarter, primarily attributable to lower traffic levels in our stores," said Dorrit J. Bern, chief executive of the Bensalem, Pa.-based company, which owns the Lane Bryant and Fashion Bug store chains, among others. The company also updated its expected second-quarter and full-year 2004 earnings guidance. In the second quarter, the Charming Shoppes expects to earn 12 cents to 14 cents a share, and expects same store sales to be in the negative low-single digits. For 2004, the company forecast revenue of $2.3 billion and EPS of 26 cents to 28 cents. The forecasts include one-time expenses of 3 cents and 5 cents a share for the second quarter and full year, respectively. Analysts expect the company to earn 16 cents a share in the second quarter and 31 cents a share for the full-year on sales of $2.4 billion. Shares of Charming Shoppes closed at $4.20 Wednesday on the Nasdaq.