Today I declare the year 2004 over.

This is essentially what the folks at Elizabeth Arden (NASDAQ:RDEN) have done. By decree of the board, the company's 2004 began on January 31 and will end on June 30, 2004. July 1, according to Elizabeth Arden, will be the beginning of 2005. Imagine how badly it would've destroyed last year's number if the company went the other direction and declared that 2004 was actually 17 months long.

If this sounds supremely powerful or extraordinarily unseemly to you, then relax -- it's neither. Elizabeth Arden is doing something that is pretty smart: It's moving its fiscal year to match the sales cycles that many retailers experience. Moving the fiscal year end to June 30 keeps the Christmas season all within one fiscal quarter and allows for better budgeting since the capital planning and most important retailing periods will no longer coincide.

A look at the coverage on Elizabeth Arden's most recent quarter shows a bit of confusion. One journalist noted "Elizabeth Arden's Loss Narrows" in his headline, while an Associated Press column stated "Elizabeth Arden's First-Quarter Loss Widens." Well, it can't do both, can it?

As with everything, it depends on what numbers you consider, and this has nothing to do with five-month years. Let's start at the top. Elizabeth Arden turned in sales of $140 million for the quarter -- an increase of 4.4%. That's not great growth, particularly considering what Elizabeth Arden spent on sales and marketing, an increase of 19%, partly due to a new fragrance, Provocative Woman, and a skin-care program the company is launching with Wal-Mart (NYSE:WMT). Moving on down the line, we see that the company lost $23.2 million, as compared to $16.6 million last year. Pretty cut and dry. We also see that the company's loss per share came in at $0.95 vs. $0.93. Again, sounds like a bigger loss to me.

But look how much bigger the spread of the net loss is than the net loss per share. Over the last year, Elizabeth Arden's share count has increased by nearly 25%; I guess you could call that good news when a company's losing money -- fewer losses to attribute per share -- but it is not that great when you've got to spread profits of cash flows over the larger number.

So how is there possibly a "narrower loss"? The answer is EBITDA, my friend. Elizabeth Arden repurchased a class of its debt on which it had to pay more than 10%, replacing it with 7% debt (it refinanced, if you will), creating financial items that impacted earnings. In addition, the company converted a class of preferred shares to common (thus some of that dilution), which will also save it money for years to come. After those adjustments, Elizabeth Arden said it lost $0.56 per share.

This wasn't a great quarter, regardless of how you classify it. Elizabeth Arden considers itself a luxury brand with worldwide presence, and in an environment where other luxe brands like Tiffany (NYSE:TIF), Estee Lauder (NYSE:EL), and Gucci have done extraordinarily well, Elizabeth Arden's sales growth needs calipers to properly measure. The company's seeking to attract a younger generation of customers with its recently announced beauty agreement with Britney Spears. Seems like a phenomenally better choice than Paris Hilton, but I'm not convinced that we're looking at this generation's Elizabeth Taylor, for sure. If it keeps pushing those five-month years, she might start aging quickly.

Bill Mann does not own shares in any company mentioned here.