Upscale women's clothing firm Marisa Christina Inc on Tuesday blamed a weak retail environment and shaky consumer confidence for its swing to a first quarter loss but said it sees a strong second half.

The New York-based firm posted a net loss of $287,000 versus a year-ago profit of $249,000 with sales down 15.3 per cent to $5.3 million from $6.3m.

Chairman Michael Lerner commented: "The first quarter results are in line with our projections. We expected that our first quarter sales volume would be lower than the prior year, due to a soft economy and cautious retailers.

"We put in place a very specific marketing plan designed to increase our customers' awareness of all Marisa Christina has to offer. This resulted in a higher percentage of operating expense for the first quarter, but we feel that our sales volume for the second half of 2003 will bring our top line equal to the level in 2002.

"We fully expect to have operating profit for the year 2003, which should exceed 2002."