LIMITED POSTS SOLID GAINS IN FEB. SALES

NEW YORK — The Limited Inc. reported same-store sales rose 4 percent for February, its strongest sales performance since March 1994, when the chain posted a 7 percent gain.
Since then, The Limited had languished: Gains were no higher than 2 percent, and on several occasions negative comparable-store sales were reported. Analysts said better weather and pent-up demand from previous months — when the weather virtually killed business — helped The Limited. In addition, some clearances were moved from March into February this year.
Last month, the gain was driven by Express, Lerner, Lane Bryant, Henri Bendel, Structure, Abercrombie & Fitch, and Victoria’s Secret Stores.
Total sales increased 16 percent to $539.8 million from $465.5 million.
Most other retailers will report sales on Thursday. The Limited released results early because of its tender offer to buy back up to 85 million shares — about 24 percent of its outstanding stock — at $19 a share. The offer expires Wednesday at midnight.
In a conference with analysts Monday, The Limited said its women’s businesses — Express, Lerner New York, Lane Bryant, Limited Stores and Henri Bendel — posted 3 percent same-store gains, on a week-over-week basis, while Structure, Abercrombie & Fitch and Limited Too chalked up an average 4 percent gain.
Intimate Brands, which includes Victoria’s Secret, Bath & Body Works and Cacique, notched a 5 percent week-by-week gain. Intimate Brands was spun off in October 1995 in an initial public offering, but the Limited still owns 83 percent.
Same-store sales gains were led by Abercrombie & Fitch, 20 percent; Henri Bendel, 18 percent; Bath & Body Works, 7 percent; The Limited Stores, 7 percent, and Lane Bryant, 6 percent.
Other gains were notched by Victoria’s Secret Stores and Structure, each ahead 4 percent, and Lerner, 3 percent.
Same-store sales slipped 1 percent at Express and sank 13 percent at Limited Too.
Clearance markdowns depressed merchandising margins for the month at Express, Henri Bendel, Victoria’s Secret Stores, Bath & Body Works, Structure and Limited Too. However, higher margins were achieved by Abercrombie & Fitch and Lerner, with significant improvement at Limited Stores and Lane Bryant.
Only Bath & Body Works and Limited Too missed sales plans.
At Bath & Body Works, transactions increased, but the size of each transaction declined as customers traded down for lower-priced, discontinued merchandise. The company is now looking for same-store growth of 10 to 11 percent and expects a boost from introductions of soaps, a performance hair care line and shower creams.
Management said the softening at Bath & Body Works is being offset by strengthening at Victoria’s Secret Stores and Cacique.
Victoria Secret’s gains were helped by “coordinated fashions of fresh sleepwear,” with hot sellers including polyester sleepwear, poly/silk panties and Underwear brand separates and panties. The margin erosion reflects the movement of clearance markdowns from March 1995 to February to capitalize on Valentine’s Day.

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