Convenience store chain 7-Eleven ( SE - Get Report) turned a profit before items in the first quarter, as it improved merchandise margins. 7-Eleven earned $1.8 million, or 2 cents a share, in the first quarter, excluding a $28.1 million charge for the removal of underground storage tanks, compared with a loss of $1.8 million, or 2 cents, a year ago. Analysts were expecting a break-even result, according to Thomson Financial/First Call. Total sales at 7-Eleven were up 0.7% at $2.28 billion, vs. $2.23 billion in the year-ago period. Including items, 7-Eleven had a loss of $38.6 million, or 37 cents a share, in the first quarter. Gross profit margin expanded by 82 basis points to 34.54% from 33.72% this time last year. "This is the first year-over-year quarterly increase in merchandise margin in five years. We achieved higher gross profit margin through improved buying practices which reduced cost of goods," said Jim Keyes, CEO of 7-Eleven. "This is a reflection of the benefits we are receiving from our technology investment." In recent trading, shares of 7-Eleven were up 7 cents, or 0.71%, at $9.92.