NEW YORK — Shares of Estee Lauder Cos. fell $3.94, or about 9 percent, to $47.06 Thursday after Merrill Lynch downgraded the stock due to sluggish department-store sales, weak foreign currencies and a slowing U.S. economy.

The downgrade Thursday came on the same day Chase H&Q lowered its earnings estimates on Ann Taylor, Intimate Brands, The Limited, Nordstrom, Saks, Tiffany and Zale due to significant promotional activity and weak store traffic. In addition, shares of Quiksilver tumbled $5.88, or 27.3 percent, to $16.13 after the firm said it would miss Wall Street’s 2001 estimates due to the erosion in the French franc and German mark against the dollar. Four investment firms downgraded Quiksilver.

Merrill Lynch analyst Heather Hay Murren, who cut her short-term rating on Lauder to “neutral” from “accumulate,” said department stores likely will have their smallest holiday season sales increase since 1990. She noted that mall traffic in the week ended Dec. 16 fell 9.6 percent from a year earlier and department store traffic fell 14 percent, according to the National Retail Federation and RCT Systems Inc.

Murren said U.S. economic “factors affecting consumer purchasing might inhibit Estee Lauder’s ability to meet or exceed our projections.” She also said weak currencies will hurt Lauder’s overseas sales when translated into dollars.

Chase H&Q’s Harry Ikenson cut the the ratings on Tiffany and Zale to “market perform” from “strong buy” while noting that information from the International Council of Shopping Centers shows that jewelry has been a poor performer in the first three weeks of the holiday season and worst last week.

Ikenson said, “We believe the retail environment is quite difficult with only four shopping days left before Christmas. In addition to the slowing economy, several other factors appear to have negatively impacted consumers: the prolonged election, severe weather across most of the country and a declining stock market.”

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