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Cutback Plans Gussy Up Ann Taylor Shares

News of job cuts and store closures lift the beleagured women's clothing seller.
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SAN FRANCISCO -- Shares of

Ann Taylor


were jumping nearly 12% on Thursday after the women's apparel chain revealed an aggressive restructuring plan to help stem any further bleeding after ongoing sales weakness.

The plan includes the closure of 117 underperforming stores over the next three years, as well as the elimination of about 180 jobs. All told, the company expects savings of $50 million by 2010.

Shares of Ann Taylor were up $2.63 to $25.46 in afternoon trading.

Betty Chen, an analyst for Wedbush Morgan Securities, says that while other retailers are starting to cut back on growth during a challenging macroeconomic environment, Ann Taylor is taking it one step further.

"This is a much more dramatic fashion, to do it all in one stroke," Chen says.

Other chains have taken less drastic measures. For instance,



, which like Ann Taylor has been struggling to win back its core customers, recently announced that it will abandon its kids and men's stores. And


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has said that it will reduce the square footage growth of its stores.

Such moves come as the women's apparel sector tries to regain some of its footing. Women 35 and up have been losing interest in traditional stores such as Ann Taylor, Chico's and

Coldwater Creek


as they see fewer attractive options, choosing instead to revert to department stores where they used to shop. The problems have been exacerbated by a weak economy.

Chen points out that Ann Taylor's customers skew younger than its rivals, with merchandise aimed at women in their early-to-mid 30s. That said, the company also is planning a new concept for boomer women, though it is delaying that introduction until 2009 under its new plan.

Chief Executive Kay Krill said the company's restructuring will strengthen profitability, with the goal of improving operating margin by more than 200 basis points in the next three years.

"This restructuring is designed to position us as a stronger, leaner company that can be more agile in responding to economic realities and marketplace opportunities, and we are confident that this program will not only improve our bottom line, but also enable us to reinvest in our business to drive more profitable growth in the future," she said in a statement.

Adrienne Tennant, an analyst for Friedman Billings Ramsey, says Ann Taylor may soon start to see some benefits from its restructuring plan, particularly from investors.

"With the sentiment in the sector shifting to the positive, we believe investors are now willing to overlook near-term weakness and reward companies for 'controlling' what they can -- namely SG&A and cash spending," Friedman wrote in a research note.

Chen says Ann Taylor's cuts might influence other retailers to act more aggressively with their own operations.

"ANN was early and reviewing the structure already," she says. "It speaks to how reactive and aggressive this management team is, and shows how they'll weather through a challenging environment."