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Finish Line profit exceeds analyst expectations

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The Finish Line Inc. barely eked into the black in its fiscal third quarter, but even that exceeded analysts’ expectations.

Excluding a one-time tax benefit tied to its aborted merger with Genesco Inc., the Indianapolis-based athletic apparel retailer on Tuesday reported a $16,000 profit from continuing operations, compared to a loss of $6.5 million in the same period last year.

Analysts predicted a loss of 9 cents per share in the quarter ended Nov. 28.

Sales at stores open at least a year—a key retail measure—increased 1.7 percent; they dropped 3.3 percent in the year-ago period. Comparable-store sales climbed another 4.9 percent from Nov. 29 to Dec. 20, the company said.

Total net sales were down 0.2 percent, from $240.6 million a year ago to $240.1 million in the third quarter of 2009.

The company also managed to build its balance sheet. The Finish Line said it ended the period with no interest-bearing debt and $149.2 million in cash and cash equivalents—up from $55.1 million a year ago.

“We continue to display an ability to perform well and improve our business in what remains a cautious consumer environment,” CEO Glenn Lyon said in a prepared statement. “In the third quarter, we effectively controlled expenses, managed inventories and improved store execution.”

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