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Ross key revenue figure for March falls 1 percent

PLEASANTON, Calif. (AP) -- Discount retailer Ross Stores Inc. on Thursday posted a surprise 1 percent drop in February revenue at stores open at least a year, blaming a delay in shoppers' income tax refunds.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected an increase of 1.1 percent. The metric excludes revenue from stores that recently opened and closed, which can skew ongoing sales trends.

The Pleasanton, Calif.-based company attributed the drop to a delay in their shoppers' income tax refunds, noting that sales improved later in the month. Tax refunds were delayed until the end of January, two weeks later than usual, because Congress and the White House didn't agree on income tax rates until Jan. 1 as part of the deal that averted the so-called fiscal cliff.

Total February revenue rose 3 percent to $726 million.

The chain's profits have soared in the aftermath of the recession as shoppers seek bargains at its stores.

The company backed a previous forecast for revenue at stores open at least a year to fall 1 to 2 percent in March before rising 5 to 6 percent in April. It also kept a prediction for fiscal first-quarter profit of $1 to $1.04 per share. Analysts polled by FactSet expect a profit of $1.04 per share for the February-April months.

Ross reports its fiscal fourth-quarter financial results on March 21.

Shares fell 17 cents to $59.53 in premarket trading. They have risen nearly 9 percent over the past 12 months.