SHARES SLAMMED: Shares of The Talbots Inc. and Ann Taylor Stores Corp. dropped in Thursday trading after both were downgraded by Wall Street analysts. On Wednesday, Talbots warned September same-store sales would be in the negative low single digits and third-quarter earnings would be 45 cents to 50 cents a share, below last year’s 60 cents. The stock was subsequently downgraded by Piper Jaffray & Co. to “Market Perform” from “Outperform” on Thursday, and quarterly earnings estimates on the company were cut at Piper Jaffray, SG Cowen & Co. and Citigroup Smith Barney. Piper Jaffray said Talbots is “losing footing in full-price selling.” Shares of Ann Taylor also fell after Banc of America Securities cut its investment rating to “Neutral” from “Buy” and reduced EPS estimates. The brokerage said “the Ann Taylor division is struggling on the top line and, combined with high inventory levels, is leading to a higher degree of markdowns.” Talbots shares closed Thursday off 9.2 percent at $24.79, while Ann Taylor shares ended the session at $23.40, down 4.8 percent.
MERCEDES BID: Saks Fifth Avenue and Mercedes-Benz USA have teamed up to offer a holiday gift package featuring the new 2006 Mercedes-Benz CLS500. All proceeds from the sale of the package will benefit Reading Is Fundamental, the nation’s leading children’s literacy organization. Saks’ holiday catalogue will feature the opportunity to bid on the Mercedes CLS500. Bidding, which begins at $75,000, takes place Nov. 1 to Nov. 11. The package includes a custom-designed European Delivery Rally Tour, which begins once the winner picks up his or her Mercedes at the factory in Sindelfingen, Germany. A self-guided, six-day tour, which includes first-class airfare and hotel accommodations for two, goes through Germany’s Black Forest region, the Austrian Alps and ends in Munich. After the tour, the car will be transported back to the U.S., with its trunk packed with such goodies as a Louis Vuitton Keepall duffel; a CSX Diamond Chronograph by Michelle Watch; a Jimmy Choo Classic Hobo bag, and Cole Haan sherling boots.