Huttig Building Products swung to a $1.6 million net profit in the second quarter from a $1.9 million loss in the year-earlier period, in part on a 5.4% rise in sales to $137.6 million, the company reported today.

Gross margin at the St. Louis-based distributor and millwork operation jumped 11% in the April-June period to $27.1 million, or 19.7% of sales, from $24.4 million (18.7% of sales) in the year-earlier period. Millwork sales rose 11% to $61.5 million and building product sales grew 4% to $60.9 million, overcoming a 10% decline in wood products sales to $15.2 million.

Operating expenses shrank by $1 million to reach $24.6 million, or 17.9% of sales. That's an improvement from the $25.6 million (19.6% of sales) that went toward operations in 2011's second quarter.

Huttig cited this year's rebound in housing activity as helping propel the sales increase, though it also noted that the mild spring weather might have pushed what normally would have been second-quarter sales into the first quarter. The changing sales mix helped the gross margins, it said, but it added that the company has "placed a strong emphasis on margin improvement, though the competitive environment remains very strong."

Huttig also reported that it sold this month its facility in Anchorage, Alaska--a building it idled in 2009--for $3.4 million. That sale will lead to a $2.2 million gain in the third quarter, it said. Net proceeds from the sale were used in July to pay down debt, which just before that on June 30 stood at $68.5 million.