J.C. Penney Co. raised its guidance for a key sales measure as it reported a narrower loss in the first quarter than it had a year ago.

The results offered some encouraging news to investors who pushed shares higher in aftermarket trading. They've been discouraged by the slow pace of the company's turnaround. Penney has been trying to recover from a disastrous reinvention push by former CEO Ron Johnson who was fired in April 2013.

Under Johnson's tenure, the company had alienated customers and lost billions of dollars in revenue in getting rid of discounting and some basic merchandise.

To help get the company back on track, the board brought back Mike Ullman who came out of retirement. He has been restoring sales and some of the goods that Johnson got rid of. Last year, the company named Marvin Ellison, a former executive at Home Depot, as president and he is designated to take over as CEO this summer.

Penney, based in Plano, Texas, said that it lost $167 million, or 55 cents per share, in its fiscal first quarter. Losses, adjusted for one-time gains and costs, were 57 cents per share. That compares with a loss of $352 million, or $1.15 per share in the year-ago period.

The latest results surpassed Wall Street expectations. The average estimate of 10 analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research was for a loss of 79 cents per share.

But the department store operator posted revenue of $2.86 billion in the period, which fell short of Street forecasts. Eleven analysts surveyed by Zacks expected $2.87 billion.

Revenue at stores open at least a year rose 3.4 percent for the quarter. The figure is a key indicator of a retailer's health. Penney said that it now expects revenue at stores opened at least a year to rise 4 percent to 5 percent, up from the original forecast of 3 to 5 percent.

Shares slipped 17 cents, or close to 2 percent, to $8.71 before the report was released. In after-hours trading, shares rose 7 cents to $8.78. Shares are well below the $43 price that they reached when investor enthusiasm was high over Johnson's plan back in February 2012.

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Elements of this story were generated by Automated Insights (http://automatedinsights.com/ap) using data from Zacks Investment Research. Access a Zacks stock report on JCP at http://www.zacks.com/ap/JCP

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Keywords: J.C. Penney, Earnings Report, Priority Earnings