L Brands’ new year isn’t off to a great start.
Investors sent shares of the company down 14.8 percent to $49.60 in the first hour of trading Thursday after the company weighed in with December sales. That left the stock at its lowest level since late November.
The Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works and Henri Bendel operator said overall sales during the five weeks ended Dec. 30 increased 3 percent to $2.51 billion, compared to the same period last year, while comparable-store sales, including e-commerce, inched up 1 percent.
Amie Preston, L Brands’ investor relations officer, said on a brief call that the company expects fourth-quarter earnings per share to come in a $2, compared to a previous expectation of between $1.95 to $2.10.
The picture for the 48 weeks ended Dec. 30 is a little bleaker however, with net sales down 1.5 percent to $11.76 billion and comp sales decreasing 4 percent. Sales at Victoria’s Secret declined every month last year.
L Brands cited Victoria’s Secret’s exit from swim and apparel categories, which occurred well over a year ago and has been mentioned repeatedly as cause for sales declines. The move negatively impacted total company sales by 3 percent and Victoria’s Secret by 5 percent for the 48-week period.
Mark Altschwager of Baird Equity Research said the drop in shares “reflected some expectation for upside” and that overall, the sales update was “disappointing.”
Victoria’s Secret again proved to be a drag on the company’s performance, with the division’s overall comp sales down 1 percent during holiday and sales in stores only down 6 percent. Preston said the brand’s merchandise margin rate was “down significantly” compared to last year due to increased promotions, which will continue at least until Victoria’s Secret starts to focus on Valentine’s Day. Inventory per square foot is up 7 percent for the lingerie retailer.
Year-to-date, overall sales at Victoria’s Secret are down 9 percent.
“Growth in the beauty and Pink businesses was more than offset by a decline in lingerie,” Preston said.
Chethan Mallela, an analyst with Barclays, said the merchandise margin was “disappointing” and likely to be causing investor concern.
“Ultimately, we do not necessarily see the December performance as sufficient to fully dampen recently more constructive sentiment on shares and recognize that L Brands likely stands to be an outsized beneficiary of tax reform,” Mallela said.
Meanwhile, Bath & Body Works saw sales increase 4 percent during holiday, and the brand will also be discounting product through January.
Looking forward, L Brands expects overall comps for January to be up low-single-digits.
After the company showed some slight sales momentum during the third quarter while profits fell by 29 percent, new Victoria’s Secret chief executive officer Jan Singer said she was working to refocus the brand on its core products, namely constructed bras and in-store service.
“It’s working,” Singer said. “And we’ll continue to stay on that offering.”
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