While The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. posted fourth-quarter results that missed Wall Street’s estimates.
The retailer saw net income for the three months ended Jan. 28 decline 11.6 percent to $44.7 million, or $2.09 a diluted share, from net income of $50.6 million, or $2.42, a year ago. Excluding a non-cash asset impairment charge of 78 cents, diluted earnings per share on an adjusted basis were $2.87. Net sales fell 5.5 percent to $877.3 million from $927.9 million, while comparable-store sales were down 4.7 percent for the quarter.
Wall Street was expecting EPS of $3.24 on net sales of $915.4 million.
For the year, the net loss widened to $63.4 million, or $3.18, on a net sales decline of 4.3 percent to $2.6 billion.
Kathryn Bufano, president and chief executive officer, said, “While the continued weak traffic trends and unseasonably warm weather pressured sales in the fourth quarter, we expanded gross margin by 145 basis points and grew adjusted EBITDA [earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization] by 8 percent. In addition, we exceeded our cost reduction goal by $7 million, with net savings of $31 million for the year.”
The company said comp trends improved from Thanksgiving through the end of December and the weakened in January. Bon-Ton also said it saw double-digit sales growth in omnichannel, which includes sales from its web site, mobile site and buy-online, pick-up-in-store initiative. The company also said the gross margin rate rose 145 basis points to 36.2 percent compared with a year ago, mostly due to reduced markdowns and lower distribution costs. The gains were partially offset by de-leverage from lower sales volume.
Bufano also said the company made progress on a number of initiatives designed to help it differentiate itself from competitors. Further, Russ Hardin recently joined the firm as creative vice president.
“We believe that we are well-positioned for fiscal 2017 as we continue to build on these strategic priorities and drive the business forward. As we look ahead, we will remain focused on capitalizing on our omnichannel business, refining our marketing strategies and further evolving our merchandise assortment, with even greater emphasis on growth categories and localization. Finally, we will remain disciplined in our inventory management and will once again focus on further reducing our costs throughout the year,” the ceo said.
For fiscal 2017, the company estimated a loss per diluted share in the range of $2.08 to $2.59. comps are expected to fall 2 percent to 3 percent, although the gross margin rate is estimated to rise 10 to 20 basis points over the fiscal 2016 rate of 35.5 percent.
Bon-Ton operates 263 stores, including nine furniture galleries and four clearance centers, in 25 states in the Northeast, Midwest and Upper Great Plains. The company’s nameplates include Bon-Ton, Bergner’s, Boston Store, Carson’s, Elder-Beerman, Herberger’s and Younkers.