J.C. Penney Co., still in turnaround mode and dealing with slowing fall sales trends, managed to lower its loss for the third quarter ended Nov. 1 to $188 million, from $489 million in the year-ago period.

Sales were essentially flat, reaching $2.76 billion last quarter compared with $2.78 billion in the third quarter of 2013. Same-store sales were flat.

“This quarter shows the progress we are making in the final phase of J.C. Penney’s turnaround,” said Myron E. Mike Ullman, 3rd, chief executive officer. “We continued to significantly improve the profitability of our business with gross margin expansion of 710 basis points, a $342 million improvement in EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization] and bottom-line financial results that exceeded even our own expectations. Like most retailers, following a strong start to the back-to-school season, sales did slow in September and October as unseasonably warm weather hindered the sale of fall goods.”

The Dallas-based department store said its operating income for the quarter was a loss of $54 million, representing a $347 million, or 87 percent improvement over last year. EBITDA was $102 million, a $342 million improvement from the same period last year. EBITDA included a gain of $88 million related to the sale of certain store assets. Home, fine jewelry and Sephora were the company’s top-performing areas. Geographically, the West and Northeast delivered the best performance.

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