Updated from 8:52 a.m. ESTKmart ( KMRT) reported its first quarterly profit Thursday since emerging from Chapter 11 bankruptcy, as shoppers largely ignored Martha Stewart's legal troubles. The profit was disclosed in a press release prior to the open of trading. In a subsequent government filing, Kmart said the travails of Stewart, whose products the chain sells under a distribution agreement, haven't hurt its results to date. Stewart, the founder of Martha Stewart Living ( MSO), was found guilty March 5 of lying to federal investigators about her sale of ImClone ( IMCL) stock in December 2001. "To date, we have not experienced any significant adverse impact from this matter on the sales of Martha Stewart Everyday brand products," the company said in a 10-K filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission. "Although product sales have not been significantly affected by past events, the company is not able to determine the potential effects that these events may have on the future sales of its Martha Stewart Everyday brand products." Kmart also acknowledged that it remains the subject of a suit filed by Martha Stewart Living in February over royalties, noting the home decorations company wants it to pay an additional $4 million on products sold in 2003. Troy, Mich.-based Kmart earned $276 million, or $2.78 a share, in the fourth quarter ended Jan. 28. The year-ago quarter -- a period during which the company was in Chapter 11 -- showed a loss of $1.1 billion. Kmart emerged from bankruptcy on May 6 under new management and applied fresh-start accounting to the period beginning April 30, making year-over-year comparisons moot. The company said income before interest expense, reorganization items, income taxes and discontinued operations was $503 million in the most recent fourth quarter, which included gains on real estate transactions of $86 million. Kmart shares were recently up $3.37 at $38.05. Same-store sales dropped 13.5%, the company said, while total sales for the period declined to $6.33 billion, from the $8.53 billion at Kmart Corp. a year ago.
"Our improved inventory management, along with cash flow from operations and receipts from sales of surplus real estate, has significantly strengthened our cash position," the company said in a statement. As of Jan. 28, the company had $2.1 billion in cash and cash equivalents. Kmart Corp. had $1.2 billion in the same period last year. Kmart had said on
Jan. 5 that it expected to earn $200 million in the November and December, the first two months of the fourth quarter. The company had said inventory and promotions-management initiatives started paying dividends. The company has about 1,500 discount stores and supercenters.