In what may be the start of a campaign to take the company public, TLC Beatrice International Holdings Inc., the closely held foods company, yesterday released financial results for the first quarter that showed a small and decreasing net loss.
The numbers show that TLC Beatrice, the nation's largest black-owned business, is benefiting from improving economic conditions in Europe, where it does most of its business.
In the first three months of 1994, the company reported a net loss of $3.4 million, compared with a loss of $6.2 million in the first quarter of 1993. But net sales rose by 8.5 percent, to $396.7 million, and operating income rose by more than 37 percent, to $6.3 million.
The company has been in the throes of transition since Chief Executive Officer Reginald F. Lewis, a Baltimore native who bought the company for just under $1 billion in 1987, died of brain cancer on Jan. 19, 1993.
After Mr. Lewis' death, his half brother, Jean S. Fugett Jr., was named chairman and chief executive.
But after just a year on the job, on Feb. 1, Mr. Fugett was replaced by Mr. Lewis' widow, Loida Nicolas Lewis.
Mrs. Lewis, a lawyer, controls about 55 percent of TLC Beatrice's stock. But the company has said it is looking for an experienced chief executive.
In the aftermath of Mr. Lewis' death, minority shareholders had ,, pressed for a common stock offering. But in a March announcement detailing cost-cutting measures, the company said that effort had been abandoned.
A spokesman for the company, R. S. Meily, said the decision to release the results was made by Mrs. Lewis to "be more open with everybody, to act like a public company even though we are a private company."
He said the disclosures, which will be made on a quarterly basis from now on, were "not necessarily" preparatory to a public offering.
But analysts disagreed.
"They want people to be more familiar with their numbers, and also to put out better numbers, before they sell their shares publicly," said Margaret Schell, an analyst at Jefferies & Co. in Chicago. "And the numbers are starting to look better."