Times are tough for the Neiman Marcus Group.
A 71.6 percent decline in earnings to $7.9 million for its second fiscal quarter ended Jan. 30, compared to $27.8 million for the year-ago period, was blamed on reduced spending by shoppers impacted by low oil prices and the gyrating stock market, and by foreign tourists feeling the pinch of the strong dollar.
NMG isn’t alone in its challenges, with Nordstrom, Tiffany & Co., Bloomingdale’s and Saks Fifth Avenue, among the upscale businesses also experiencing softness. However, the declines at Neiman’s appear sharper because of its heavier dependence on the luxury sector. Results at Hudson’s Bay Co., which operates Saks as well as Off 5th, Lord & Taylor, Hudson’s Bay and Kaufhof in Germany, and at Nordstrom Inc. have recently been better, possibly because of their wider offerings across a broader spectrum of prices.
Neiman’s adjusted earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization were $183 million, versus $205.9 million in the second quarter a year ago.
Total revenues for the Dallas-based luxury chain slipped 2.3 percent to $1.49 billion, compared to $1.52 billion for the second quarter of fiscal year 2015.
Despite the declines, Neiman’s officials pointed out that last quarter was better than the one before and that it is making progress working down inventories to be more in line with sales trends. Officials said the inventory realignment is “a multi-quarter process.” Margins are under pressure, with EBITDA margin dropping from 13.2 percent to 11.5 percent for the six months ended Jan. 30.
Neiman’s did boast that among multichannel retailers, it has attained one of the highest e-commerce rates — 30 percent of total sales. The growth has assuaged concerns that affluent consumers would be reluctant to shop designer fashion online. One of NMG’s highest-priced transactions, a necklace, originated on neimanmarcus.com during the holiday season. Still, online operations experience high returns and have high distribution and delivery costs, cutting into profitability. In fiscal 2015, Neiman’s e-commerce represented 26 percent of total revenues.
NMG has aggressively supported its digital growth by focusing capital on enhancing its online shopping experiences, including faster checkouts, easier navigation, and personalization. NMG’s largest online demand day occurred on Cyber Monday, Nov. 30, though the company did not specify the e-commerce volume.
Neiman’s has been increasing its ability to fill online orders from stores and is rolling out its buy-online, pick-up in-store service.
“Business in Q2 showed signs of improvement but we know we still have work to do as we begin the quarter and spring season,” said Karen Katz, president and chief executive officer, during a conference call. She said that while comparable sales slipped 2.4 percent last quarter, the dip wasn’t as bad as the 5.6 percent drop the quarter before.
“Our business continues to feel the effects of the skittish stock market and strong dollar, resulting in fewer international tourists in key store markets,” Katz said. “The price of oil fluctuated throughout the quarter and oil prices remain at their lowest levels in over a decade. While this is good for the consumer at large, we have many customers with investments in the oil and gas business…especially in our headquarters state, Texas.”
Last quarter, the Neiman Marcus stores saw particular strength in Chloé, Givenchy, Valentino, Tom Ford, Canada Goose and Moncler.
Last month, Neiman’s opened its first store on Long Island, in the Roosevelt Field Mall in Garden City. Neiman’s plans to open its first store in New York City in 2018, in Hudson Yards, which is under construction on Manhattan’s West Side.
A replacement store in Fort Worth, Tex., is under construction, and remodels are in progress at the Beverly Hills, Palo Alto, San Francisco, Dallas, Westchester, Coral Gables, Fla., and Short Hills, N.J., stores. Bergdorf Goodman is well into a remodeling of its women’s store with a grand opening of the main floor expected later this year.
MyTheresa, purchased by NMG in 2014, saw “strong growth” in Asia, Katz said.
Sales decreases over the last six months have happened “across all price points,” she said. “It seems that the customers are being very discriminating in terms of what they are buying. There are a half-dozen vendors at the highest end of luxury that are doing extremely well. I could probably find a half-dozen luxury vendors that are not doing well.”
From quarter to quarter, NMG didn’t see any real change in terms of its international tourist traffic, Katz said.
Neiman’s has been reducing inventories and the impact of markdowns via returns to vendors, markdown allowances, cancelling orders and by adjusting certain pre-fall orders. Pre-fall arrives in stores in May and June. “Our vendors in general have been very cooperative and they know they need to help us as good partners,” Katz said. “We have made good progress over the last number of months. We believe inventories will be in better shape by the end of the fiscal year.”
“We are making sure that with those brands and categories that have been performing well, we do not back off inventory. We are absolutely doubling down with those key vendors. We are not buying in a very democratic fashion. We hope as business improves we will have the flexibility to go back into the market and replenish where we need the goods.”
Neiman’s is saddled with huge debt, though it’s being managed, and officials said repurchasing debt in the open market is an option.
Katz said Neiman’s has been diligent keeping expenses down. Last October, 500 positions were eliminated. Katz called that measure “a big driver of fiscal 2016 savings, but savings will come from other areas as well.”