NEW YORK -- The Leslie Fay Cos. Inc., which is operating in Chapter 11, expects a $17 million operating profit this year, after a $35 million loss last year.

Michael Babcock, president and chief operating officer, made the projection at a bankruptcy court hearing Thursday in which Leslie Fay received court approval of a 120-day extension of its exclusive period to file a Chapter 11 reorganization plan.

Babcock also projected 1994 sales of $675 million TO $680 million. HE did not give a comparative figure, and sales for 1993 have yet to be released,

At the hearing, Bankruptcy Judge Tina Brozman extended the deadline to file a plan over the objections of the unsecured creditors' committee, which has argued for a 60-day extension.

The deadline was Feb. 16. This is Leslie Fay's third extension of its time to file a plan.

"I have a debtor that has moved quite diligently," said Judge Brozman in making her decision. She said shortening the time would only be "making a symbolic gesture towards the creditors' committee."

Babcock admitted Leslie Fay will not have a reorganization plan ready by the new deadline but noted after the four months, Leslie Fay will "be able to look at tangible results" for its spring and summer merchandise at retail, which will give a better basis for its reorganization plan.

Fred Hodara, attorney for the creditors committee, argued 60 days should be enough time for the company to come up with a plan, noting that if Leslie Fay were not faced with some sort of deadline the company could continually ask for long extensions without showing real cause.

Judge Brozman, however, disagreed, saying Leslie Fay required more time to review its operations, improve employee morale, and calm the "nervousness among the customer community."

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