Ply Gem saw first-quarter operating earnings rebound to a gain of $1.2 million from a loss of $14.2 million a year ago on a 19% jump in sales to $239.1 million for the same period, the company reported today.

But interest expenses kept the Cary, N.C.-based exterior building products manufacturer in the red, posting a net loss of $25.6 million, down from a loss of $70.9 million a year ago.  Adjusted EBITDA more than doubled from a year ago to total $15 million for the period.

Ply Gem defines EBITDA as net income (loss) plus interest expense (net of interest income), provision (benefit) for income taxes, depreciation and amortization, non-cash foreign currency gain/(loss), customer inventory buybacks, restructuring and integration costs, write-off of previously capitalized offering costs, environmental remediation, and gain (loss) on modification or extinguishment of debt.

Gross margins improved by nearly 30% from a year ago to account for 17.9% for the current period. The company finished the quarter with $20 million in cash and cash equivalents, compared with $11.7 million from the period ending December 31, 2011. Inventories grew 9% from last quarter to reach $114.6.

“Even though the market environment improved in the first quarter, we believe the recovery will be slow and choppy for some time,” said president and CEO Gary Robinette. “As such, Ply Gem will continue to focus on maintaining a lean overall cost structure while striving to out perform the market across all of our product categories.”