Belk sales fall 5.7 percent in second quarter

Belk Inc. sales fell 5.7 percent in the second quarter as consumers continued to cut back in a difficult economy, though earnings were up compared with the same time last year.

The Charlotte-based department store chain reported revenue of $829.3 million in the three months that ended Aug. 2, down from $879.6 million in the same period last year. Sales at stores open a year or more, an important measure of retail performance, were down 4 percent.

The company's net income increased 9.3 percent in the quarter, to $8.2 million. However, that was compared to a 2007 second quarter in which Belk did considerably worse than it had in 2004, 2005 and 2006. The increase this year was due to an improvement in gross margins as a percentage of sales and lower expenses, the company said in a news release Thursday.

“We have responded to the difficult economic environment by managing inventories and expense and continuing to give customers compelling reasons to shop with us,” chairman and CEO Tim Belk said in the release. “While sales results were disappointing, we were pleased to deliver a profit improvement through the hard work and efforts of our associates throughout the company.”

During the quarter, the company also announced new partnerships with “Sex and the City” actress Kristin Davis, whose fashion line will debut in 125 Belk stores this fall, and professional golfer D.J. Trahan, who is endorsing Belk's Pro Tour private label golf and performance wear.