Apple's own-branded retail outlets returned an impressive $9 million profit in the company's first quarter 2004, Apple chief financial officer Fred Anderson revealed last night.

The company's retail stores took $273 million in revenue in the quarter – up 83 per cent for a profit of $9 million, he said.

Anderson also reported good fortune at Apple's first own-branded retail outlet outside the US in Tokyo's trendy Ginza shopping district. This huge store's first month sales have been higher than at any Apple store opened so far, averaging in excess of $1 million each week, Anderson said.

With 73 stores open by the end of Apple's first quarter on December 27 Anderson confirmed that Apple plans to have 80 stores open by the end of the summer: one will open in San Francisco this spring, and a second Apple Store in Osaka Japan will open in autumn. The company ius initiating programs aimed at switchers and small businesses through its retail outlets.

Average per-store revenues were $4 million in the quarter, and the outlets attracted 5.9 million visitors in the quarter – the equivalent traffic of over 1,000 Macworld Expos.

Apple's gross profit margins for the quarter shrank to 26.7 per cent, down from 27.6 per cent for the same quarter a year ago. International sales accounted for 44 percent of the quarter's revenue, according Apple said.

Apple spent more making sales: cost of sales rose from $1,066,000 in Q1 2003 to $1,470,000 million in the just-gone quarter. Research and development costs stood at $119 million for the quarter.

The company's cash reserves increased by $225 million to just under $4.8 billion thanks to "strong asset management", Anderson said. Apple predicts a strong second quarter: "The company anticipates its third consecutive quarter of year-over-year double-digit growth in both revenue and earnings, with revenue of about $1.8 billion and earnings per diluted share of $.08 to $.10," Anderson said.

"It was an outstanding quarter for Apple," said Apple CEO Steve Jobs