Department store operator J.C. Penney Co Inc posted a better-than-expected quarterly profit on Friday, helped by steps to cut inventory and expenses during the weakest holiday shopping season in decades.

Its net profit fell 51 percent to $211 million, or 95 cents per share, from $430 million, or $1.93 per share, a year ago.

Earnings were 94 cents per share from continuing operations, topping analysts' average estimate of 92 cents per share, according to Reuters Estimates.

Penney's net sales fell nearly 10 percent to $5.76 billion, hurt by deep discounts and consumers shunning discretionary purchases in a recession.

The company forecast a loss of 20 cents to 30 cents per share in the current first quarter on sales expected to fall 10 percent to 13 percent.

It also canceled its annual analyst meeting in Plano, Texas, in April, citing the recession's impact on many firms' travel budgets. Members of senior management will meet with analysts and investors in New York on April 22 instead.

(Reporting by Martinne Geller, editing by Dave Zimmerman)