BlueLinx swung to a net loss of $20.2 million in the fourth quarter from a $12 million net profit in the year-earlier quarter that was due almost entirely to $23.6 million in tax benefits, the company reported today. Setting aside such non-operational factors, BlueLinx's operating loss deepened to $12.2 million in the quarter from a year-earlier $4.8 million loss on a 0.5% sales increase to $367.9 million.

Gross profit for the quarter fell 2.1% from 2009's fourth quarter to reach $44.3 million, while gross margins decreased to 12.1% from 12.4%. The shrinkage in gross margins was caused by a decline in specialty gross margins impacted by changes in channel mix, the company said. Gross margin for the structural products division, which distributes plywood, OSB, and lumber, was 9.5% on the quarter, the same mark as fourth quarter 2009. The specialty products division, which distributes all other building materials, posted a gross margin of 14.7% during the fourth quarter, a 0.6% decline from the year earlier period.

Bluelinx CEO George Judd said in a statement that difficulties in the housing and construction markets as well as a slowdown in the economic recovery were the culprits for the company's performance during the quarter.

For the year ended Jan.1, the company announced a net loss of $53.2 million, a 13% improvement over the $61.4 million net loss the company posted in 2009, while its operating loss deepened to $23.9 million from $16.3 million. This came even though net sales for the year rose to $1.8 billion from $1.65 billion.

“While this difficult economic period continues, we remain focused on the strategic initiatives that will build a stronger, more profitable company,” Judd said.

Judd said the company grew specialty products revenue to account for 59% of total revenues, an improvement over the 55% mark the division held during the year earlier period. As for the year, specialty products were 55% of the total revenue to 2010, a slight fall compared to its 56% mark in 2009.

During the past year, Bluelinx was the target of an attempt by its 55% majority owner, Cerberus, to buy the remaining shares and take the company private. The plan eventually fell apart for Cerberus as it was failed to get enough other stockholders to sell their shares and thus trigger a buyout.