An ample increase in same-store sales and the addition of Parisian units helped Belk Inc, the largest privately held department store group in the US, reverse a year-ago loss during the third quarter.

In the three months ended 29 October, the Charlotte, NC-based retailer posted net income of US$23.1m versus a net loss of $4.5m in the 2005 period.

Excluding special items, earnings would have been $15.7m versus a loss of $3.9m. The improvement was attributed to both higher sales and enhanced gross margins.

Sales rose 13.3% to $794.3m from $701.3m in the 2005 period. The increase came from a 7.4% pickup in same-store sales, the addition of new stores, the acquisition of the Migerobe fine jewellery business and, during the final month of the quarter, the 38 Parisian stores acquired from Saks Inc and two Parisian stores opened since the closing of the purchase.

Tim Belk, chairman and chief executive officer of the company, said results exceeded expectations.

"Third-quarter sales were exceptionally strong, driven by women's, men's and children's," he remarked in a statement. "It is very gratifying to see the business in our comparable stores drive the overall results, both on the top line and the bottom line."

In late October, Belk said it would divest 11 of the Parisian stores. Since then, it's sold four units to The Bon-Ton Stores. The company is still looking to sell additional units in Indiana, Ohio, Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Last month, Belk and Federated Department Stores agreed to exchange a Parisian store in Collierville, Tennessee, for a Macy's store in Wilmington, NC. The deal is expected to close in the first quarter of calendar 2007.

During the nine-month period, net income grew 85.9%, to $68.8m, while sales were up 21.7% to $2.28bn. Same-store sales were up 4.9%.

During the first three quarters, Belk opened 10 units under its flagship name as well as two Parisian stores. The new units added 947,672 square feet to the firm's space total.

It currently operates 279 Belk stores and 36 under the Parisian banner. The Parisian stores are scheduled to be re-branded as Belk's units during the third quarter of next year.

Although privately held, Belk discloses its quarterly earnings because of public debt.

By Arnold J Karr.