Masco Corp., the corporate parent of such brands as KraftMaid and Merillat cabinets, Delta and Hansgrohe faucets, and Milgard windows, reported late Monday its loss from continuing operations shrank to $7 million in the first quarter from $85 million the year before on a 3% rise in sales to $1.9 billion.

The Taylor, Mich.-based company's cabinets and related products business segment posted a $15 million operating loss in the first quarter, improving from a $28 million loss in January through March 2009. Sales rose 2% to $403 million. In a related development, Masco said it has decided to stop making ready-to-assemble and other "non-core in-stock assembled product lines" because they don't jibe with Masco Cabinetry's brand-based approach.

The plumbing segment's operation profit more than doubled to $84 million from $35 million as net sales climbed 14% to $663 million. Other specialty products--a segment that includes Arrow Fasteners and Milgard Manufacturing--posted a $5 million operating loss vs. a $7 million loss in the year-earlier quarter, as sales climbed 8% to $124 million. Decorative architectural products--including Behr paints--posted $87 million in operating profit, up from a year-earlier $75 million, even though sales increased just 1% to $389 million. In contrast, the installation segment's loss deepened to $42 million from $36 million, as sales declined 14% to $273 million.

Net sales company-wide were flat in North America, totaling $1.43 billion, and up by 10% in the rest of the world to $422 million. Operating profit in North America more than tripled to $64 million from $19 million, while it doubled internationally to $44 million from $20 million.

"We expect that business conditions in 2010 will continue to show modest improvement compared to 2009," Masco CEO Tim Wadhams said in a statement. "While we are concerned about the impact of current unemployment levels, foreclosure activity and access to financing, we believe that housing starts will improve in 2010 and will increase to a range of 600,000 to 700,000 units from 554,000 units in 2009.

'"While we anticipate that expenditures on repair and remodel activity will improve modestly in 2010 from 2009 levels, we believe that big-ticket items will continue to be deferred, in the short-term, until general economic conditions, credit availability and home prices improve," he added. "We are confident that the long-term fundamentals for the new home construction and home improvement markets are positive."