NEW YORK – First-quarter earnings at Limited Brands Inc. dropped 76 percent, missing analysts’ expectations, as poor performance in the company’s apparel division, Express, helped pull down results.

The specialty retailer also forecast second-quarter and full-year earnings below analysts’ current projections.

Net earnings in the quarter ended April 30 declined to $23.1 million, or 6 cents a share, compared with Wall Street analysts’ expectations for a profit 8 cents. Comparatively, Limited earned $96.6 million, or 19 cents, in the first quarter of 2004. On an adjusted basis, which excludes a $44.9 million, or 6 cent, pretax gain from the repayment of a New York & Co. subordinated note, Limited Brands posted earnings of $67.8 million, or 13 cents, in the first quarter of 2004; Limited sold New York & Co. to Bear Stearns Merchant Banking in November 2002.

Net revenues in the latest quarter were essentially flat at $1.97 billion, down 0.2% from last year’s $1.98 billion. Same-store sales in the period declined 5 percent.

Limited said in a statement that it sees second-quarter earnings at 23 to 25 cents and full-year earnings at about $1.41. Analysts are calling for 29 cents in the second quarter and $1.50 in the year.

Meredith Derby

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