NEW YORK — Inventory clearance and higher costs pushed Value City Department Stores Inc. to a wider loss in the second quarter even as net and same-store sales improved significantly.

For the three months ended Aug. 2, the off-price operator of the Value City, Filene’s Basement and Discount Shoe Warehouse nameplates reported a net loss of $3.6 million, or 11 cents a diluted share, which was 1 cent greater than the Wall Street consensus estimate. By comparison, last year the firm had a loss of $726,000, or 2 cents.

Sales for the quarter grew 6.2 percent to $604.6 million from $569.1 million a year ago, and comparable-store sales increased 1.6 percent.

However, unexpected markdowns needed to move inventory depressed gross margin and that partly offset any benefit the better sales could have on the bottom line. As a percentage of sales, gross margin retracted 20 basis points to 39.1 from 39.3 a year ago.

“Horrible weather in the first couple of months of the first quarter was just drastic,” said chief executive John Rossler on a conference call with analysts. “The weather just killed the first quarter, which left us with too much inventory that we needed to burn through in the second quarter. Overall, though, results were in line with expectations.”

While inventory was still up 14.4 percent over last year, the company said it is on plan for the 14 new DSW stores and other leased space slated to open in the second half of the fiscal year.

Higher selling, general and administrative expenses, not unexpected since the firm is about at the mid-point of what should be a three-year repositioning program, also helped negate any profits. As a percentage of sales, SG&A expanded 50 basis points to 39 from 38.5 last year.

“Investments in marketing and technology have offset other cost savings,” said Rossler, “and we have essentially exhausted cost-cutting opportunities. The best way to leverage costs is increased comparable-store sales.”

Chief financial officer James McGrady said second-half comps are forecast to grow in the low-single-digits and that Value City expects to be profitable for the full fiscal year.

Overall, for the first half, the firm recorded a net loss of $16.8 million, or 50 cents a diluted share, versus last year’s loss of $5.5 million, or 16 cents.Sales for the six months increased 3.3 percent to $1.19 billion from $1.15 billion in the prior-year period.

While Value City said it was too soon to give more specific guidance, once all the repositioning initiatives are completed, the company noted that by the second half of next fiscal year, it has the potential to return to the record profit levels of fiscal 1999, when it had full-year net income of $33.5 million, or $1.02.

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