NEW YORK — Lower net and same-store sales prevented Finlay Enterprises and Whitehall Jewelers from posting first-quarter profits.

For the three months ended May 3, Finlay posted a net loss of $1.5 million, or 16 cents a diluted share. That compares with last year’s much greater loss of $17.2 million, or $1.78, which, excluding an accounting change, would be reduced to a loss of $33,000, or 0 cents.

Sales for the period declined fractionally, or 0.6 percent, to $186.2 million from $187.4 million last year, and comparable-store sales slid at the same pace of 0.6 percent.

“During these uncertain times we continue to focus on managing inventory efficiently and controlling operating expenses,” said chief executive officer Arthur Reiner in a statement. “Although we are conservative in our outlook for the near-term, we are cautiously optimistic about the full year. As such, we remain comfortable with our previously stated guidance of earnings per share in the range of $2.35 to $2.45 for the full year.”

Last year, Finlay had full-year earnings of $2.37 a share.

As for the second quarter, Reiner said Finlay anticipates a loss per share of between 12 and 17 cents on flat comparable-store sales.

In the first quarter ended April 30, Whitehall posted a net loss of $2.7 million, or 19 cents a diluted share. By comparison, the firm recorded profits of $369,000, or 2 cents, in the year-ago quarter. Earnings per share missed the Wall Street consensus estimate by 5 cents.

Sales for the period declined 7.3 percent to $69.1 million from $74.6 million, as same-store sales dropped 8.7 percent.

In a statement, chief executive Hugh Patinkin said, “First-quarter results were significantly affected by the economy and, more particularly, a dramatic sales drop-off in late February and throughout March, which we believe related in large measure to the war in Iraq and heightened concerns about terrorism.”

Patinkin added that Whitehall also incurred certain expenses related to the launch of several new sales programs, the opening of 16 stores and higher professional fees.

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