NEW YORK — Improved business controls, as well as a year-ago charge, helped Elizabeth Arden Inc. narrow its second-quarter losses as sales increases cleared the double-digit hurdle.

Losses attributable to common shareholders for the quarter totaled $11 million, or 62 cents a share. This compared with the year-ago deficit of $26.8 million, or $1.53. Year-ago results reflect a $10.3 million pretax charge for inventory write-down.

Sales for the period ended July 27 improved 10.7 percent to $127.2 million from $114.9 million a year ago.

The revenue increases were helped along by the firm’s "open-sell" program, marketing directed toward mass and mid-tier retailers and new products. Offsetting some of the strength was soft sell-through over the Mother’s Day and Father’s Day holidays as well as a decrease in prestige department store doors.

"We have efficiently reduced working capital and improved our liquidity, despite the increase in sales year-to-date and an anticipated similar increase in sales for the full year," noted E. Scott Beattie, chairman, president and chief executive, in a statement.

Gross margins advanced 800 basis points to 38.1 percent of sales, from the year-ago inventory charge and the sell-through of high-cost Elizabeth Arden inventory, offset by changes in the sales mix. As reported, the firm, formerly FFI, acquired the Arden business in January 2001 and subsequently changed its name.

Selling, general and administrative expenses during the quarter were cut back by 1,000 basis points to 37.6 percent of sales. Inventories totaling $245 million at the end of the quarter stood 8.7 percent below year-ago levels.

During the quarter, Arden introduced its new Ardenbeauty fragrance with accompanying marketing featuring Catherine Zeta-Jones. The new Elizabeth Taylor fragrance, Forever Elizabeth, ships this month.

For the six months, losses attributable to common shareholders were reduced to $21.9 million, or $1.24 a share. This compared with the year-ago red ink of $45.8 million, or $2.70.

Sales for the half strengthened 12.5 percent to $267.5 million from $237.7 million a year ago.

The Miami-based beauty firm reiterated its full-year guidance for sales of $735 million to $775 million with earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization of $95 million to $105 million.

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