ROUGH 4TH QUARTER FOR WHITEHALL

NEW YORK — A weakening economy and poor weather were cited as Whitehall Jewellers reported profits fell just over 30 percent in the fourth quarter.
The Chicago-based specialty retailer said net income was to $10.1 million, or 69 cents a diluted share, for the three months ended Jan. 31. That represented a 31.6 percent drop from the $14.8 million, or 97 cents, reported in the fourth quarter of 1999.
The company took a charge of $1.3 million in the quarter related to the closing of 10 stores. Excluding this charge, earnings were 74 cents.
Sales rose 5.2 percent to $134.3 million versus $127.7 million, while comparable-store sales decreased 8.1 percent compared to an 11.1 percent increase in comps in the prior-year quarter.
In a statement, Hugh M. Patinkin, chairman and chief executive, said he expects weak economic conditions to continue to negatively impact sales for the next several quarters. Still, he said the company has taken “numerous steps to focus greater attention on improving existing operations.”
Initiatives include better management of expenses, store closings and a reduced store opening scheduled for 2001. The company plans to open roughly 30 stores this year, of which seven have already been opened, Patinkin said.
“We expect these initiatives will generate improved profit productivity and position us well when the economy strengthens and consumer confidence rises,” Patinkin said.
For the full year, net income fell 62.2 percent to $7.3 million, or 65 cents, from $19.3 million, or $1.28. Earnings before the charge were 71 cents. Sales increased 12.6 percent to $355.1 million versus $315.4 million, while comparable-store sales decreased 1.7 percent versus an 11 percent increase last year.