Express Inc. had a slightly smaller decline in third-quarter profits than Wall Street expected but saw its shares fall at a double-digit pace in pre-market trading after it provided weak fourth-quarter guidance.

Shares were off 12.4 percent to $12.69 in advance of Wall Street’s opening.

In the three months ended Nov. 1, the Columbus, Ohio-based specialty retailer’s net income slid 24.3 percent to $14.6 million, or 17 cents a diluted share, from $19.3 million, or 23 cents, in the year-ago quarter. That was 1 cent better than the 16-cent EPS result expected, on average, by industry analysts.

Sales slipped 1.2 percent, to $497.6 million from $503.8 million, and were down 5 percent on a comparable basis despite an 11 percent increase in e-commerce sales to $79.1 million.   Analysts were looking for sales of $499.7 million. Gross margin slipped to 31.7 percent of sales from 32.8 percent a year ago.

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However, fourth-quarter guidance fell well short of analysts’ early expectations. Express, which caters to young adult women and men, now projects EPS for the three months of between 38 and 45 cents, well below the 60-cent estimate of analysts. Comps are expected to fall in the mid- to high-single digits.

Michael Weiss, chairman and chief executive officer, said the guidance reflects “current retail store trends and expectations that mall traffic will continue to remain challenging through the holiday period.” He said third-quarter performance weakened throughout the period, with strength in e-commerce and Express’s growing outlet business only partially offsetting softness in its other stores.

“As we began the fourth quarter, e-commerce enjoyed a strong Thanksgiving push through Cyber Monday and our outlet sales continued to exceed initial expectations,” Weiss said.

Express anticipates that it will finish the year with 582 retail stores and 41 outlets in the U.S. versus respective counts of 592 and 29 at the close of the third quarter.

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