Gannett Co. executives yesterday announced that USA Today made money last month for the first time in the newspaper's almost five-year history.

The May profit of $1.09 million followed April's loss of $899,999, according to Gannett President John J. Curley. And Allen H. Neuharth, the father of USA Today, said he does not expect the paper to be operating at a profit for the year in 1987.

But at Gannett's arcing glass headquarters in Rosslyn yesterday, Curley, Neuharth and a group of USA Today executives celebrated the May figures, which follow years of heavy losses and slow acceptance by advertisers.

Neuharth said, "I think it will confirm for all of {the staff} and for anyone else who cares that USA Today is here to stay, if in fact there has been any lingering doubt about that."

He said that possibly by the end of the year, he would give a breakdown on the investment in USA Today, which he believed would lead even his critics to conclude it was a "bargain price." He said, "What it has cost to establish this newspaper is less than many of us have spent to buy a single newspaper in a single market."

Curley told reporters that he sent a telegram to Neuharth on Monday at the Sylvan Lake Lodge in Hill City, S.D., where Neuharth's traveling news room -- BusCapade USA -- had been scheduled to stop for the night.

"McPaper has made it," Curley said in the telegram. "Hope you'll fly back to Washington for champagne celebration tomorrow."

For nearly six months, Gannett executives hinted that they believed they had broken through advertisers' resistance to buying space in USA Today.

"Given their numerous public statements indicating how vibrant business had been since December '86, it did not require a rocket scientist . . . to see that in the second quarter they were flirting around with breaking even," said Peter Falco, an analyst with Merrill Lynch & Co. in New York.

Another analyst said that when word of the May figures began to circulate through Wall Street Monday, Gannett stock climbed almost $5 in anticipation of just such an announcement.

Neuharth again refused yesterday to give details of how much USA Today has cost the company. But several analysts estimated that since the paper started in September 1982, operating losses have been more than $400 million.

Such an outlay does not count the cost of interest, capital expenditures or the number of "loaners" -- employes working at USA Today but whose salaries are paid by other Gannett newspapers or the Gannett News Service. The $400 million-plus loss also does not account for tax writeoffs, several analysts said.

Gannett executives yesterday said that their average daily circulation at the end of March was 1,544,547 and by the end of September they hope to have a circulation 1.6 million. Of that number, about 15 percent -- or 232,000 -- is in bulk sales to airlines, hotels and other clients that give the newspapers to customers.

In a period when the national news magazines that USA Today considers its competitors are finding advertising sales flat or falling, USA Today has seen advertising pages up 22 percent over last year and revenue up 45 percent. The paper has an average of 16.1 pages a day.

Neuharth told reporters that he expects the paper to slip back into the red in the summer months when business is normally slower, but that by the fall "indications point to a meaningful profit."