Wet Seal


stayed on the comeback trail Friday, reporting a smaller first-quarter loss, thanks to increasing sales and improved margins.

The mall-based apparel retailer, which was snatched from the jaws of bankruptcy last year with the help of a well-known hedge fund, reported a loss of $8.6 million, or 23 cents a share. That marks an improvement from last year's loss of $20 million, or 66 cents a share, in the same quarter.

The company said the results include about $1.5 million in charges from stock compensation and interest expenses.

Wall Street analysts were expecting a loss of 41 cents a share, according to consensus estimates reported by Thomson First Call. Shares of Wet Seal were recently trading up 22 cents, or 5.7%, to $4.07.

The retailer suffered steep losses in sales and earnings in 2004, and its stock lost three quarters of its value. Steve Cohen's SAC Capital put up $40 million to shore up the company's cash position, brought in a new chief executive and closed 153 stores.

So far, these efforts have reversed sales trends. In the latest quarter, Wet Seal's net sales totaled $103.8 million, a 4% increase from last year's $99.9 million, despite closing 153 of its namesake stores. Same-store sales at locations open at least a year surged 29.8% last quarter, compared with a decrease of 17.2% the year before.

The retailer did not provide any sales or earnings guidance going forward.