Byline: David Lipke

NEW YORK — The sluggish economy dampened second-quarter results at Belk Inc., the nation’s largest privately held department-store operator.
For the three months ended Aug. 4, the Charlotte, N.C.-based firm reported net income of $7.4 million, or 13 cents a share, down 12.5 percent from $8.4 million, or 15 cents, in the year-ago quarter.
Revenue declined 1.5 percent, to $488.4 million from $496 million in the same period last year.
“Our results during the second quarter continued to be impacted by difficult economic conditions,” said chairman and chief executive officer John Belk in a statement. However, costs were contained and merchandise categories, including juniors, women’s moderate sportswear, women’s accessories and cosmetics, enjoyed strong sales growth, he added.
Gross margin in the quarter improved to 31.5 percent of sales, from 31.1 percent last year, which the company attributed primarily to the consolidation of disparate distribution centers to a newly constructed central facility in Blythewood, S.C.
Selling, general and administrative costs increased to 27.1 percent of sales, from 26.4 percent last year. Inventories shrank 6.6 percent, to $506.5 million, compared with $542.3 million as of February 3.
Since the beginning of the year, Belk’s has opened two new stores, relocated one door, and expanded or renovated another four locations. Although private, Belk’s has public debt and has made its earnings and sales results public since 1998, when it reorganized into a single operating company to become more competitive.
For the six months, income was $9.1 million, or 17 cents a share, down 50.5 percent, from $18.3 million, or 33 cents, in the year-ago period. The first half of this year was adversely impacted by the cumulative effect of a change in accounting principle; excluding this change, income was $10.1 million, or 18 cents.
Revenue for the period inched up 0.5 percent, to $1 billion from $997.5 million last year.