BlueLinx reported a net loss of $10.3 million during the fourth quarter, marking an almost 50% improvement in net loss from the same period a year ago, the company announced today. Net sales rose 6% to reach $391 million during the quarter ended Dec. 31.

Fourth-quarter operating loss at the Atlanta-based distributor totaled $2.6 million, an improvement over the $12.2 million operating loss posted a year ago. Gross profit also increased 8% to $47.9 million.

The increase in sales reflects a 5% increase in overall unit volume and favorable year-over-year product pricing, the company said. Specialty product segment sales increased almost 9% to $240.7 million and were driven by a 6.6% increase in unit volume, while structural segment sales grew 7% to $165.7 million, helped by a 3% rise in unit volume and increases in product selling prices.

Fourth-quarter structural unit sales volumes were 175.8 million square feet for plywood (3/8-inch), down 3% from last year’s fourth quarter. Sales of 3/8-inch oriented strand board (OSB) also fell 7% to 86.6 million square feet and lumber unit sales rose 6% to 158.4 million board feet.

For the year, the company reported a net loss of $38.6 million, an upgrade from the $53.2 million loss suffered in 2010. Net sales for the year slipped 2% to $1.76 billion. Gross profit also declined by a little over $500,000 to $210.1 million. Operating loss for the year was $8.3 million, up from the $23.9 million loss revealed for 2010.

Year-end sales numbers reflect lower unit volume and pricing within the structural product segment, which also suffered a 15% slide in sales to $708 million. Those numbers were partially offset by a 7.4% increase in specialty product unit volume and an increase in the segment’s product pricing. The specialty product segment posted net sales of $1.09 billion for the year, up 9% from 2010.

Plywood (3/8-inch) unit sales were 786.5 million square feet for 2011, an 11% decrease from the year prior. OSB (3/8-inch) unit sales plunged 31% to 372.6 million square feet as lumber saw unit sales slid 14% to 652.1 million board feet for 2011.

“While annual housing starts in 2011 were once again weaker than expected, I am pleased that we were able to narrow our operating loss for the year by approximately $16 million,” said George Judd, president and CEO of BlueLinx. “A lot of work remains in order for us to return to profitability, but I am confident that we are up to the task.”