Women's clothing retailer AnnTaylor Stores Corp reported a surprise quarterly profit on Friday, helped by tight inventory management and improved merchandise.

The retailer, which operates its namesake Ann Taylor chain and the more casual, less expensive LOFT stores, said net income was $41 million, or nil per share, compared to a loss of $375.6 million, or $6.66 per share, a year earlier.

Excluding restructuring charges, the company earned 5 cents per share. Analysts, on average, were expecting a loss of 1 cent per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Net sales fell about 3 percent to $469.1 million. Same-store sales fell 0.6 percent, as a 2.1 percent increase at LOFT stores helped mitigate a 7.3 percent decline at Ann Taylor.

For the current first quarter, AnnTaylor expects total net sales of $445 million, above analysts' average estimate of $443.7 million.

For the full year, AnnTaylor expects total sales in 2010 to rise, helped by a return to same-store sales growth at both of its chains. It expects total store square footage to decline 3 percent this year, as it plans to close about 72 stores and open 30.

AnnTaylor shares were down 39 cents to $19.06 in premarket trade.

(Reporting by Martinne Geller; Editing by Derek Caney)