J.C. Penney ( JCP) said same-store sales in its department stores and drugstores rose in March, and the company indicated that it expects to beat the consensus earnings projections for the first quarter. The company's same department store sales for March rose 2.7% from the year-ago period. Wall Street was expecting a 1% gain. Total department store sales for the month increased 1.3% to $1.21 billion, from just above $1.19 billion in the same period last year. Shares of J.C. Penney, which is based in Plano, Texas, gained 77 cents, or 4.7%, to $17.20 in recent New York Stock Exchange trading. Drugstore sales, on a comparable-store basis, rose 8.4%, with a 13.4% increase in pharmacy sales. Total drugstore sales rose 1.6% to $1.31 billion, up from $1.29 billion last year. Catalog sales fell 10.4% in the month. J.C. Penney also said it now expects first-quarter earnings to meet, or be slightly above, the high-end of the analysts' range of 2 cents to 11 cents a share, as compiled by Thomson Financial/First Call. The consensus estimate stands at 7 cents a share.