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Shares of



were tanking Thursday after the company warned that second-quarter earnings would be below analysts' consensus if weak traffic levels experienced recently continue through July.

The retailer also said same-store sales in June were up 0.9%, below the First Call consensus estimate for a 4.1% gain and at the low end of the company's own estimates. Total sales in June were up 7% at $184.6 million.

The Hingham, Mass.-based company expects to earn 33 cents to 35 cents a share in the second quarter, short of the Wall Street consensus for 38 cents a share, but above the prior year's profit of 32 cents a share. July is generally the last month of the second quarter; results will be released Aug. 18.

Talbots shares were lately off $4.58, or 11.7%, at $34.61. The stock is up about 22% year over year.

"We experienced a very strong start to our semiannual clearance sale, which began on June 17," Talbots said. "We did, however, see a slowdown in customer traffic later in the period. Although our overall core women's business was strong, sales in our dress and Talbots Kids areas in the month were weaker than anticipated. These businesses have been especially soft all spring and continue to have a significant negative impact on our total company results."

Excluding the company's kids and women's dress businesses, however, it said June same-store sales would have been up 6%. All of the company's businesses had positive same-store sales in the month, except its kids segment, which dropped 13%. Petites rose 1% and accessories and shoes increased 7%.

Inventory per square foot was up 10% at the end of June, which was slightly above plan, the company said. "Lower-than-planned markdown levels due to strong June markdown selling were more than offset by early receipts of new fall regularly priced merchandise," the company said on a recorded call.

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Same-store sales in July are seen flat with last year. The company had a 0.7% increase in July 2003. Talbots noted that July is when it clears its remaining spring and summer inventory via its semiannual clearance event to make room for fall merchandise.

Meanwhile, one of Talbots' rivals,

Ann Taylor


, posted an 11.9% surge in June same-store sales vs. the consensus for a 6.7% gain. Total sales were $173.3 million, an increase of 27.1%.

The company had a 0.2% decrease in same-store sales in June 2003.

"At Ann Taylor, sales of all categories of tops were particularly strong, which, combined with an increase in promotional activity, resulted in higher comparable store sales. At Ann Taylor Loft, full-price sales drove the business, especially in separates, tops, fashion accessories and petites," the company said.

Like Talbots, however, July same-store sales are expected to be flat with last year, Ann Taylor said.

New York-based Ann Taylor said it is comfortable with its prior second-quarter earnings guidance of 39 cents to 40 cents a share and for a profit of $1.77 to $1.82 a share in the full year, just below the consensus estimate, however.

Analysts are expecting 40 cents a share in the quarter and $1.83 a share in the year.

Shares of Ann Taylor were lately down 23 cents, or 0.8%, at $27.72. The stock is up about 40% since last year.