UPDATE 2-Zale posts smaller loss as sales improve

Wed May 25, 2011 9:08am EDT

* Q3 loss 28 cents/share vs year-ago loss 38 cents

* Q3 same-store sales up 15.2 pct

* Shares rise 10.2 percent in premarket trade (Adds background, share rise)

NEW YORK, May 25 (Reuters) - Jewelry retailer Zale Corp ZLC.N reported a smaller quarterly loss as increased spending by middle-class shoppers for Valentine's Day and the start of the bridal season mitigated the impact of rising silver and gold costs.

Sales at established stores rose 15.2 percent for the three-month period ended April 30, marking another quarter of improvement after sharp sales declines during the recession.

Zale, whose chains include Zales in the United States and Peoples Jewellers in Canada, said revenue rose 14.5 percent to $411.8 million in the company's third fiscal quarter.

Gross margin fell 0.7 percentage point to 50.1 percent.

Its net loss shrank to $9 million, or 28 cents per share, from $12.1 million, or 38 cents per share, a year earlier.

Zale, which competes most directly with Signet Jewelers Ltd's (SIG.N) Kay Jewelers chain for middle-income shoppers, struggled with liquidity problems during the recession, forcing it to pull back on advertising and leading to market share loss.

A year ago, private equity firm Golden Gate Capital loaned Zale $150 million, allowing it to mend relations with suppliers.

But rising gold, silver and diamond prices have emerged as a new threat. In February, Zale executives said the retailer would have little choice but to raise prices on some jewelry starting in the spring.

Zale, the largest North American jeweler by store count, operates about 1,870 locations, include stores, outlets and its Piercing Pagoda chain of mall kiosks.

Zale shares were up 43 cents to $4.65 in morning trading.

Signet and upscale jeweler Tiffany & Co (TIF.N) are due to report quarterly earnings on Thursday. (Reporting by Phil Wahba; Editing by Derek Caney and John Wallace)