NEW YORK — Revlon Inc.’s turnaround efforts claimed a small victory Thursday as first-quarter sales increased despite its 18th consecutive quarterly loss.

The bottom-line deficit widened slightly in the quarter to $48.7 million, or 93 cents a share, from $46.1 million, or 88 cents, a year ago. Revlon incurred expenses of about $11 million in the quarter related to its turnaround and growth efforts, exclusive of brand support, training and development costs.

Investors traded down shares of the firm 13 cents, or 4.4 percent, to close at $2.83 on the New York Stock Exchange Thursday.

So far, the firm has recognized charges of $115 million for its revitalization program, which could tally an eventual price tag of $160 million.

Reflecting increased brand support, net sales were up 6 percent to $292 million from $275.4 million a year ago. Revlon pointed to the increase, the first rise in net sales for several years, as a leading indicator.

"We’re continuing to execute the plan, which is very much focused on consumers, our retail partners and the organization, and we’re beginning to pull the levers on all three of these elements," said president and chief executive Jack Stahl in a telephone interview.

In addition to the improved sales, Stahl said Revlon and Almay, the firm’s two main brands, were gaining market share momentum. Revlon’s share has risen for seven straight months, while Almay’s has been on the upswing for four.

The company’s overall market share in color cosmetics picked up 80 basis points from a year ago to 23.2 percent in the quarter, according to ACNielsen.

First-quarter share for the Revlon brand registered a 110 basis-point gain to capture 17.2 percent of the market. Almay’s share grew 20 basis points to 5.9 percent of the market versus a year ago.

In recent weeks, Revlon’s brought to life its "360-degree brand experience," including the launch of new TV and print advertising for the Revlon and Almay brands.

"This advertising leverages our brand strength consistently across all forms of our communication, including in-store graphics, which are beginning to flow out into the marketplace," noted Stahl on a conference call.Revlon began ramping up support of its brands in the second half of last year. During the quarter, selling, general and administrative expenses of $184.2 million represented a 260 basis-point rise against a year ago, as a percent of sales.

North American sales grew 4.6 percent in the quarter to $205 million from $196 million a year ago, driven by color cosmetics gains and, to a lesser extent, hair color. Offsetting the advance were lower sales from implements and antiperspirants/deodorants.

International sales rose 10.1 percent to $87 million from $79 million a year ago. Exclusive of the favorable impact of foreign currency translation, Revlon’s sales abroad expanded by 5 percent.

"Our international business is beginning to strengthen in some key markets and that’s evidenced by our sales performance, which was particularly strong in the U.K., South Africa and several markets in the Far East," said Stahl on the call. "We have stepped up our marketing effort in these important markets and we’re beginning to see some responsiveness to our programs."

Revlon is in the second, or stabilization and growth, phase of a planned three-part turnaround. This is the investment-heavy portion of the attempted about-face, which includes ramp-ups in advertising and promotion to support the firm’s brands and entice market share gains.

The cost rationalization phase of the plan, which included plant closures, was largely completed before Stahl took over the helm in February 2002. During the third phase, the firm hopes to enter into a mode of accelerated growth, although its timing remains uncertain.

Revlon still needs to contend with its significant debt load, the long-term portion of which tipped the scales at $1.76 billion at the end of the quarter.

So far, the firm has enjoyed financial backing from its primary shareholder, Ronald Perelman, through his wholly owned MacAndrews & Forbes Holdings. As reported, Revlon inked an investment agreement with MacAndrews in February, which included a $100 million term loan, a $50 million rights offering and a $40 million line of credit that increases to $65 million in 2004.

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