Signet Jewelers Ltd., the parent of Sterling Jewelers of Akron, reported higher quarterly profits Thursday, boosted by sales at stores open at least a year.

Signet [NYSE: SIG], which said earlier this year it plans to buy rival Zale Corp. of Texas, also increased its quarterly dividend, raising it 20 percent from 15 cents to 18 cents a share. The results beat analysts’ expectations.

Shares hit a 52-week high of $107.38 in trading Thursday morning. Shares closed up $6.68 to $105.03.

Profits for the fourth quarter totaled $175.2 million. That’s up 2 percent from the year-ago net income of $171.8 million. Earnings per share were up 2.8 percent to $2.18 from $2.12 a year ago.

Sterling, headquartered on Ghent Road in Akron, operates Kay and Jared stores across the United States. Its parent, Signet, is the largest operator of jewelry stores in the country and the United Kingdom. The U.S. outlets, which include regional stores, generate the vast majority of sales for Signet. The company has more than 2,600 employees in Summit County.

“Our strong performance continues to reflect the success of our growth initiatives,” CEO Mike Barnes said in a statement.

He said that “creating an outstanding customer experience, delivering compelling merchandise, heightening awareness through our continued advertising investment in support of our store concepts and merchandise brands, and offering customer finance programs in the U.S. all work together to support our customers’ jewelry purchases and drive sales.”

Sales for the fourth quarter totaled $1.564 billion, up $50.7 million or 3.4 percent, compared to $1.513 billion in the quarter ended Feb. 2 of last year. .

Same store sales — measured at stores open at least a year — increased 4.3 percent compared to an increase of 3.5 percent in the year-ago fourth-quarter.

Online sales saw a hefty increase. They were $79 million for the fourth quarter fiscal 2014, compared to $63.9 million for the year-ago quarter, up $15.1 million or 23.6 percent.

Signet said in February that it will buy rival Zale for about $1.4 billion, including debt. Zale, which suffered as luxury spending dropped during the economic downturn, last year recorded an annual profit for the first time since 2008.

Signet CEO Barnes has said the plan is to keep the Zale brand name and for Zale CEO Theo Killion to continue to run the Zale operation from its headquarters in Texas. Barnes said in February there are no personnel cuts “on the horizon” in Texas or at the Akron headquarters as a result of the proposed acquisition.

In the U.S. division, sales totaled $1.288 billion, up $43.1 million or 3.5 percent. Same store sales increased 4 percent compared to an increase of 4.9 percent in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2013.

Sales increases were driven by a variety of types of jewelry. Bridal jewelry, colored diamonds, fashion jewelry and beads and watches all performed well, the company said. The number of product transactions increased in both Kay and Jared. The average merchandise transaction value was up in Kay primarily due to higher sales in branded merchandise.

Online sales in the United States were $61.9 million compared to $51.0 million in fourth quarter fiscal 2013. That’s up $10.9 million or 21.4 percent.

Katie Byard can be reached at 330-996-3781 or kbyard@thebeaconjournal.com.