HOUSTON ( TheStreet) -- Stage Stores ( SSI) reported an improvement in fourth-quarter earnings and projects first-quarter earnings in line with analysts' estimates. Stage Stores said 2010 will be another challenging year but it's projecting sales growth. For the first quarter, the company is projecting a loss of 2 cents a share to earnings of 2 cents a share on sales of $332 million to $339 million. Analysts forecast a loss of 2 cents a share on revenue of $336.7 million. The retailer expects full-year 2010 earnings of 80 cents to 90 cents a share on revenue of $1.4 billion to $1.5 billion. For the fourth quarter, Stage Stores reported net income of $27.9 million, or 72 cents a share, compared with net income of $25.3 million, or 67 cents a share, for the prior year. The company attributes the improvement to strong inventory control and expense management. -- Reported by Andrea Tse in New York Follow TheStreet.com on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.