Byline: Jennifer Weitzman

NEW YORK — Neiman Marcus Group said Thursday that it expects first-quarter profits to be lower than it originally hoped for, due to soft sales in all regions following last month’s terrorist attacks.
The warning, which did not offer specific guidance, came with the announcement that the Dallas-based retailer’s same-store sales in September skidded 19.5 percent, comprised of a 21.2 percent fall at the Neiman Marcus stores and Bergdorf Goodman and a 9.1 percent decline at the direct-marketing unit. Sales were soft across all regions, particularly at Manhattan-based Bergdorf’s, which accounted for roughly 10 percent of total company sales last year.
The warnings became the latest in a growing list from retailers that have felt the chill from consumers still wary from the events last month and an economy that is teetering on recession.
For the first two weeks, comparable revenues at NMG averaged a mid-single-digit decline, while during the last three weeks, which included and followed Sept. 11, comps dropped 25 percent. The company noted some improvement in sales at the end of the September period.
Burt Tansky, president and chief executive officer, said in a statement: “Given the uncertain economic and political events, which continue to unfold worldwide, we cannot provide further guidance at this time.”
To steer the company through the current challenging times, Tansky stated that the company is adjusting purchases, marketing plans and expenses.
Tansky said in September that Neiman’s is looking for first-quarter earnings of 70 to 80 cents a share. Wall Street’s forecast for the period ending this month is 61 cents per share, according to First Call. A year ago, the retailer earned $1.01 a share.
Eric Beder, at Ladenburg, Thalmann & Co., said that although the NMG customer is not shopping right now, he believes the retailer has the potential for a decent holiday selling season. “The high-end customer will hold off for awhile, but they will be back with a vengeance,” he said.
He also noted that NMG outperformed Saks Holdings Inc., which he said last week estimated a 25 to 28 percent drop in same-store sales at its Saks Fifth Avenue stores for last month.
While NMG offerings of deluxe goods, such as its limited-edition helicopter or a Dolce & Gabbana fur jacket, might not strike its customers’ fancies in times of crisis, other consumers are listening to President George W. Bush’s call to spend and acquire. Benefiting are the value-priced retailers like Deb Shops Inc. and Christopher & Banks Corp., which both delivered positive comps this month.
Philadelphia-based Deb Shops, a specialty apparel and accessories chain for juniors, reported a 4.7 percent jump in its September comps on a 9.7 percent increase in total sales, to $23.6 million. Also reporting, Christopher & Banks said its comps increased 5 percent on a 35 percent total sales jump, to $20.7 million.
While both companies said traffic was down that week, they also said business rebounded by the following week.
“The customer came back,” Deb Shops chief financial officer Lew Lyons said.
On Wednesday, Tiffany’s & Co. warned that its third-quarter earnings will be lower than expected and Nordstrom Inc. and Kenneth Cole Productions announced layoffs to mitigate ailing sales. Last week, Federated Department Stores said that since the attacks, sales are about $110 million, or 20 percent, below expectations, with the Manhattan flagships of Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s running about 40 percent below plan. Saks Inc. said on last Thursday that its September same-store sales are likely to fall 12 to 15 percent, also blaming a drop in customer traffic following the attacks.

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