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Loft Continues to Pace Ann Taylor

NEW YORK — Booming sales from Ann Taylor Loft stores spurred robust second-quarter earnings for Ann Taylor Stores Corp., ultimately positioning the division to overtake the company’s core concept. <BR><BR>For the three months ended July...

NEW YORK — Booming sales from Ann Taylor Loft stores spurred robust second-quarter earnings for Ann Taylor Stores Corp., ultimately positioning the division to overtake the company’s core concept.

For the three months ended July 31, the New York-based specialty retailer saw earnings spike 42.7 percent to $30.2 million, or 41 cents a diluted share, in line with Wall Street’s consensus estimate. Comparatively, the company reported earnings of $21.2 million, or 30 cents a share, in the same period a year ago.

Thanks to Loft, sales bloomed 21.1 percent to $472.6 million from $390.2 million. Comparable-store sales advanced 7 percent.

According to J. Patrick Spainhour, chairman and chief executive officer, the Loft concept is poised to take the top spot among the company’s divisions. “This quarter we will open our 300th Loft store and pass the Ann Taylor division in total square footage,” Spainhour said during a conference call.

The sales gap between the two concepts narrowed dramatically during the second quarter. Loft stores experienced a 48.9 percent sales increase to $208.5 million from $140 million in the year-ago quarter and turned in a comp gain of 18.1 percent. Ann Taylor, on the other hand, posted a 2.6 percent rise in sales to $221.7 million from $216 million with a 0.8 percent comp gain.

Smith Barney retail analyst Kimberly Greenberger expressed concern over an expanding Loft concept. “We believe that sales cannibalization remains a growing threat as the Loft division grows its store base and appeal,” wrote Greenberger in a preview of second-quarter results.

For the first six months of the year earnings soared 58.5 percent to $62 million, or 84 cents a share, against earnings of $39.1 million, or 56 cents, in the year-ago period while sales increased 22 percent to $905.9 million from $742.2 million.

Shares of Ann Taylor sunk 2.4 percent, or 55 cents, to close at $22.05 a share in New York Stock Exchange trading on Wednesday.

— Ross Tucker