Being an investor in
must feel a whole lot like being at the wrong end of a game of Crack the Whip.
Back -- earnings disappointment -- forth -- positive earnings guidance. And since the former favorite of momentum investors first slipped back in November, there have been a lot more backs than forths. Monday, the catalog retailer cracked again: Sales in the second quarter, which ends July 28, will be flat, while earnings will be about 7 cents a share, half what they were last year. Analysts surveyed by
First Call/Thomson Financial
had expected earnings of 17 cents for the quarter. (A big miss, despite the fact that in early June the company said it expected positive sales and earnings growth in the quarter.)
Lands' End shares fell 8 7/16, or 21%, to 31 11/16. Its shares have now lost about 62% of their value since November.
It was hard to know exactly what was behind Lands' End's latest shortfall because the company gave no details in its press release. It didn't return a call seeking comment. In the past, it has blamed bad sales on the elimination of its
Willis & Geiger
unit, weak childrenswear sales, sluggishness in Japan and a poor performance from so-called prospecting catalogs (aimed at drawing in new customers).
While those issues may still be haunting the company, it could also be affected by the general decline in consumer demand that has hit retailers this summer. And to be sure, because this last is a seasonally light quarter, a small drop in sales can have a big impact on the bottom line.
"They're obviously not immune to the malaise in retail and apparel," says Barbara Wyckoff, an analyst with
. "Business is tough all around." (She rates Lands' End shares a market perform, and her firm hasn't done recent underwriting for the company.) Companies from
( BKST) have warned that their second-quarter results won't meet expectations.
Paris in July
But Lands' End is a repeat offender; the company's credibility with investors has suffered as it has repeatedly failed to deliver on its projections. Back in May, for example, it reported first-quarter earnings that fell far below expectations -- a penny a share, compared to the 16 cents a share analysts had predicted -- but its shares rallied on the back of a bullish conference call. "If they could just get consistency!" says Wyckoff. "They get overconfident in their projections." Still, she says she's convinced the company will eventually be able to turn things around.
Alexander Paris Jr., director of research at
, says he has patience. "We realized it will take some time to see the impact" of merchandising and other changes instituted by the company's management team, he says. "Not only do they have to come out with a clean new look, they have to advertise it. We have not lost confidence in management." (Barrington rates Lands' End shares a strong buy and hasn't done recent underwriting for the company.)
Lands' End appears to be an eternal optimist, because along with Monday's bad news it said per-share earnings for the year will increase about 20% above last year's $1.52. After looking at its track record over the last nine months, can you say, "grain of salt"?