Melville-based MSC Industrial Direct Co. said Thursday that its fiscal first-quarter sales and profit increased. But the gains missed analysts' expectations, triggering a decline in the company's shares in heavy trading.

The shares of Long Island's seventh-largest company by revenue closed at $73.61, down $3.38, or 4.4 percent, in New York Stock Exchange trading Thursday. Volume soared to 2.4 million shares traded, from 494,123 on Wednesday, the day before the financial report.

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The stock's fall came after the company reported that sales in the quarter ended Dec. 1 rose to $577.5 million, up 5.8 percent from the same period a year ago, amid softening demand for the industrial tools and supplies MSC distributes. Stock analysts surveyed by Bloomberg News had expected sales of $582.1 million.

The revenue growth came despite "an eroding demand environment impacted by uncertainty and caution over the fiscal cliff, " said Erik Gershwind, who took over as president and CEO Jan. 1 as part of a previously announced succession plan. After much wrangling, Congress averted steep tax hikes, one aspect of the "fiscal cliff," on Dec. 31; Congress delayed action on moderating draconian budget cuts.

Profit rose 5.6 percent to $63.2 million. Per-share earnings rose to $1 from 95 cents.

Operating income, or income produced from running the business, climbed 5.7 percent to $102.4 million. That number was pulled down by a $1.3 million first-quarter expense associated with establishing the company's co-headquarters in Davidson, N.C.

Gershwind said that tighter cost controls helped to lift results but he expects continued challenges in the near term.