Wet Seal's (WTSLA) fourth quarter was bad, and the company doesn't expect things to get any better in the first quarter.

The apparel retailer's net loss from continuing operations more than tripled in the quarter as its sales slumped 8%. Meanwhile, the company projected its per share loss in the first quarter from continuing operations will be more than 2.5 times greater than analysts' estimates.

But in a statement, company CEO Peter Whitford emphasized the positive.

"Fiscal 2003 was a challenging year for The Wet Seal, but one filled with significant strategic changes that we believe will better position the company for a more promising future," Whitford said. "We continue to make progress in carefully managing our inventory levels and are on track to deliver improved financial performance in the fall, in line with our turnaround plan."

Investors reacted only mildly to the report, which the company released after the close of regular trading. In after-hour exchanges, Wet Seal shares were recently off 2 cents, or 0.2%, to $8.63. The stock closed regular trading down 51 cents, or 5.6%, to $8.65.

In the fourth quarter, Wet Seal lost $17.81 million, or 60 cents a share, compared with a year-ago loss of $5.65 million, or 20 cents a share. Sales dropped to $143.08 million from $155.63 million in the fourth quarter of 2002.

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