By  on December 4, 2009

Lower expenses helped push Belk Inc. to a third-quarter profit, and chairman and chief executive officer Tim Belk described the operating environment as “stabilized” because of improved sales trends.

Earnings tallied $400,000, compared with a $23.5 million loss a year ago. Belk slashed selling, general and administrative expenses $19.7 million to $215.8 million.

Sales for the three months ended Oct. 31 shrank 1.8 percent to $728 million from $741.4 million. Comparable-store sales fell 2.1 percent after dropping 8.5 percent for the first half.

“We believe that the operating environment has stabilized, and merchandise margins have improved,” said Belk, whose family has run the privately held regional department store for three generations. The company reports financial results because of public debt.

The Charlotte, N.C.-based retailer posted profits of $10.4 million for the first nine months of the year, reversing losses of $10.2 million a year earlier. Sales decreased 5.8 percent to $2.25 billion from $2.39 billion and comps fell 6.5 percent.

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