US supermarket chain Publix has reported increased earnings for the third quarter, driven by healthy sales gains.

Sales for the third quarter totalled US$5.2bn, up 7.2% from the comparable period of last year, while comparable-store sales increased by 5.1% from the year-ago period. 

The third quarter's net earnings reached $252.9m, compared to $200.3m posted last year, an increase of 26.3%. EPS was $0.30 for the third quarter of 2006, up from $0.23 per share last year, adjusted for the effect of the five-for-one stock split that occurred on 1 July 2006.

Sales for the first nine months of 2006 were $16.1bn, an 8.4% increase from last year's $14.9bn. Net earnings for the first nine months totalled $805.3m, an increase of 16% from the first nine months of 2005. Adjusted for the impact of the stock split, EPS increased to $0.95 for the first nine months of 2006, up from $0.80 per share for the first nine months of 2005.

"Our financial performance continues to be excellent, resulting in another significant increase in our stock price," Publix CEO Charlie Jenkins Jr. said. "I congratulate our associates for delivering the premier customer service that made this happen."

Based on the most recent appraisal, Publix's stock price increased by $1.35 per share to $19.60 per share. Publix stock is not publicly traded and is only available to current Publix associates and members of the board.

Publix is owned by its 139,000 employees, operating 885 stores in Florida, Georgia, South Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee.