Staples Inc reported quarterly results that topped analyst estimates and forecast a sales rise of 1 percent to 3 percent in the current quarter as trends improve at its North American retail business.

The top office products retailer's same-store store sales were flat in North America, after posting declines since last December.

We're increasingly optimistic about the future, Staples Chief Executive Ron Sargent said in a statement, mainly citing the improvements at its catalog businesses and its North American Retail unit.

Net earnings rose to $269.4 million, or 37 cents a share, in the third quarter that ended on October 31, from $156.7 million, or 22 cents a share, a year earlier.

Excluding items, it earned 39 cents a share, beating the analysts' average forecast of 38 cents a share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Total sales fell 6 percent to $6.52 billion, but beat the analysts' average estimate of $6.45 billion.

In late October, smaller rivals Office Depot Inc and OfficeMax Inc posted much lower quarterly sales. OfficeMax said it will plan cautiously for 2010 as it waits for the economy and white-collar employment to perk up.

Office-supply sellers have suffered in the tough economy as both corporate customers and other shoppers curbed their appetite for nonessential items, especially expensive goods like furniture and business machines.

With its acquisition of Dutch rival Corporate Express in July last year, Staples stands to gain more than its rivals from any improvement in spending at small businesses and other corporate clients.

The company, which reaffirmed its expectations for cost savings of $300 million from the Corporate Express acquisition, said it sees fourth-quarter earnings in the range of 36 cents a share to 38 cents a share, before items. Analysts on average were expecting a profit of 37 cents a share.

(Reporting by Dhanya Skariachan, editing by Christopher Kaufman and Derek Caney)