By  on December 4, 2013

Shares of Express Inc. lost more than one-fifth of their value in morning trading today after the apparel specialty retailer reported disappointing third-quarter results and provided a bleak outlook for the holiday season.

Noting that Thanksgiving week sales exceeded last year’s but fell short of company expectations, Michael Weiss, chairman and chief executive officer, commented, “We had been planning a promotional holiday season but we now expect the intensity of those promotions to reach heightened levels and we are updating our full-year guidance accordingly.”

Full-year earnings, originally expected to land between $1.52 and $1.60 a diluted share, were lowered to a range of $1.46 to $1.51. Fourth-quarter EPS is projected to fall to between 66 and 71 cents a diluted share, down from 75 cents in the final quarter of 2012 and below the 78 cents previously anticipated, on average, by analysts. Comparable sales, including e-commerce revenues, are expected to rise in the low-single digits.

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In the first hours of trading, Express shares were down $5.39, or 21.9 percent, to $19.28. The weak showing by Express also put pressure on shares of Aéropostale Inc., down 3.2 percent to $9.43, and Guess Inc., down 1.8 percent to $33.27, both of which are scheduled to report third-quarter results after market today.

The S&P 500 Retailing Industry Group was off 0.2 percent to 917.46, with most teen and youth retailers hit by sharper declines.

Third-quarter earnings also fell short of analysts’ consensus estimates. In the 13 weeks ended Nov. 2, net income rose 11.1 percent to $19.3 million, or 23 cents a diluted share, from $17.4 million, or 20 cents, in the prior-year period. The consensus estimate among analysts was for EPS of 25 cents.

Revenues rose 7.4 percent to $503 million from $468.5 million. Comparable sales rose 5 percent, including a 21 percent hike in e-commerce to $55 million. Gross margin expanded to 32.9 percent of sales from 32.3 percent a year ago.

“Despite the promotional environment,” the company said, “we were able to recover some of the margin lost in last year's third quarter by delivering a stronger product assortment, especially on the women's side of the business.”

Weiss noted, “Our overarching goal is to continue presenting Express as a premier fashion authority for our demographic, and we believe that our current and go-forward assortments demonstrate that standing."

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