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OAKLAND, CA-Cost Plus Inc. said Thursday it shrank its third quarter loss by 7.3% despite a 10.4% decrease in sales and added that same-store sales turned solidly positive last month, the second month of the fourth quarter. The results mark the company’s stabilization and the start of a recovery, company president Barry Field told analysts on a brief conference call. “We’re cautiously optimistic the company has turned the corner,” he said.

The 269-store retailer of “casual home furnishings” reported a net loss from continuing operations of $22.3 million, or $1.01 per share, on $181.9 million in sales, down from a net loss of $24 million or $1.09 per share on $203-million in sales in the same 2008 period. Same-store sales declined 9.1% in the third quarter compared to a 3.4% decline in the same year-earlier period. The fourth quarter is looking up, however, the company, said, citing a 4.9% increase in sames-store sales in November.

Cost Plus is attributing the same-store sales decline to an 8.8% reduction in the average ticket per customer primarily due to lower furniture sales and a relatively flat customer count compared to last year. The positive same-store sales in November are being attributed to the use of layered alternative media campaigns that drove a double digit comp increase in customer count for the month, including a 9.9% increase in California, the company’s largest and most mature market, which has struggled disproportionately during the recession.

As part of its turnaround plan, the company closed 26 stores in the first quarter. In addition to that, the plan has included corporate and distribution center work force reductions in the fourth quarter, the delay of new store expansions, reductions in marketing and capital expenditures, and a delay in new hires.

Given the positive sales trend in November, Cost Plus is projecting its fourth quarter income from continuing operations before interest and taxes to be somewhere in the range of $8 million to $14 million versus a loss of $10.9 million in the same 2008 period. Ebitda is projected to be in the range of $14 million to $20 million versus a $3-million loss in the same 2008 period.

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