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LITTLE ROCK, AR-Strong furniture sales in areas hard hit by last year’s hurricanes, fewer markdown and brisk business in the western United States helped department store chain Dillard’s Inc. post an unexpected second-quarter profit, reversing last year’s same quarter losses of $12.3 million, or 15 cents a share.

The company earned $15.7 million, or 20 cents per share, in the 13 weeks ending July 29 on sales of $1.75 billion, a 1% increase over last year’s sales of $1.73 billion. The results beat analysts’ estimates of a 5 cents per-share loss on sales of $1.71 billion. Sales at stores open at least a year remained flat for the period while net sales dipped slightly to $1.68 billion from $1.69 billion in the prior year’s quarter, the company said.

The Little Rock, AR-chain said furniture sales, particularly in areas hard hit by last year’s hurricanes, trended above average, but children’s clothing sales were significantly below average. Helping to boost the bottom line was a $13.5 million pre-tax gain from the sale of the company’s interest in a joint mall venture in Yuma, AZ and $6.5 million, or 5 cents per share, received from antitrust litigation in a case involving Visa/Mastermoney.

The company, which operates 325 department stores in 29 states, closed two stores during the quarter in Pasadena, TX, and Aurora, CO and four other stores along the Gulf Coast remained closed following damage by hurricanes Katrina and Rita. Two of those storm-damaged stores in Texas and Louisiana will reopen in the next few months, the company said. It was unclear when the remaining two stores in New Orleans and Biloxi, MS would reopen.

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