Albertson’s, the US retail group about to be acquired by a consortium including the Supervalu chain, reported net earnings from continuing operations of US$166m, or $0.44 per diluted share, for the first quarter of 2006, against $107m, or $0.29 a share, in the first quarter of 2005.

The company said the first-quarter results were positively impacted by higher gross margins and lower expenses, including a pre-tax gain of $47m for planned pension curtailments approved during the quarter.

Total sales for the quarter were $9.9bn, on a par with the first quarter of 2005. Total comparable store sales decreased by 0.1%, while total identical store sales fell by 0.2%.

Gross profit rose to $2.843bn, from $2.810bn in the first quarter of 2005. The company said the improvement in gross profit was driven by successes achieved in the use of new pricing optimisation software, retail shrink reduction and supply chain expense reduction initiatives.

During the quarter, eight new stores were opened, 18 were closed and 20 remodels were completed, the company said. A total of 2,461 stores were trading at the end of the quarter.

Albertson’s announced in January that it had entered into definitive agreements to sell the entire company to a consortium of investors including Supervalu, CVS Corporation and an investor group led by Cerberus Capital Management.  The deal, which has just been approved by Albertson’s and Supervalu shareholders, is expected to close in June.