NEW YORK — The Talbots Inc. fell short of its year-ago profit performance, but it did manage to better its own guidance by a penny.
Boosted by stronger full-price selling in the latter part of the quarter, which offset decreased inventory for the chain’s semiannual summer clearance sales, Talbots posted a 7.6 percent decline in income for the second quarter ended Aug. 2 to $18.5 million, or 32 cents a diluted share, from $20 million, or 33 cents, in the same year-ago quarter. Wall Street consensus estimates were 31 cents, according to First Call.
Sales rose 5.2 percent to $389.6 million from $370.4 million. Retail sales were up 5.1 percent, to $339.4 million, and same-store sales were down 1.7 percent, better than the company had expected. Catalog sales, including those from the Internet, rose 6 percent to $50.2 million from $47.4 million.
Company executives noted in a conference call that use of the retailer’s charge card rose to 45 percent of sales from 42 percent last year and that customers have been paying off a higher percentage of their balances. This will translate to flat finance-charge income in the second half and only a slight increase for the year, they said, but has left the firm in a strong position with respect to accounts receivable and account aging.
Arnold Zetcher, chairman, president and chief executive officer, said during the call that the quarter featured “strong regular-price selling of our transitional and early fall merchandise, which we began in mid-June, [and] solid markdown sales of our semiannual clearance sale event, which began at the end of June.”
He said that the company opened 10 new stores during the quarter, bringing its total to 924, and that an additional 53 locations are planned for the second half. The ceo said that three men’s concept stores — in Manhattan, Boston and outside Washington — will open in September. Also on the agenda is the opening of its first Talbots Collection store to test how well the collection does as a freestanding concept. Currently, the collection is sold in selected Talbots Misses stores, and features higher-priced merchandise with more fashion detailing and better-quality fabrications.
While company executives were upbeat about the third quarter due to positive early sales trends, they remained cautious in outlook.“The economic picture still remains uncertain. We will maintain our disciplined approach to maintain our business,” Zetcher assured analysts.
The categories of casual tops and “season-appropriate” shorts and skirts categories have garnered early approval from fall shoppers. While pants remain the core component of its bottoms business, the company said that it has seen an incremental pickup in sales of skirts.
For the year, the company plans to decrease its catalog mailings by 2 million books, to 48 from 50 issues over the year. Its men’s catalog will be mailed out in October. For fall, Talbots will again feature a national and print advertising campaign beginning in September.
For the six months, income was down 12.9 percent to $47.9 million, or 83 cents, from $55 million, or 90 cents, last year. Sales were up 3 percent to $784.6 million from $761.7 million.
Ed Larson, chief financial officer, noted that the firm’s recent increase in quarterly dividend, to 10 cents a share, was its ninth since going public 10 years ago.
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