The company has tried to shore up its brand by avoiding discounts on its products. With promotions the name of the game among retailers right now, Abercrombie stores were hurt by not being able to compete.The average value of a transaction in Abercrombie stores edged up 3% compared with last year, reflecting the lack of discounts, Johnson said. But in its adult business the average number of transactions per store declined 17%, he said. "Despite the current highly promotional environment, we are committed to protecting our image as a full-price, non-promotional brand," Johnson said. Even though that strategy is hurting same-store sales, it's the right bet to make, said Liz Pierce, an analyst with Wedbush Morgan Securities, which does not have a banking relationship with Abercrombie. Abercrombie is consciously sacrificing comps in order to protect future earnings and maintain the image of its brand, Pierce said. "To be an aspirational brand, they can't be accessible to everyone," Pierce said. "By being an aspirational brand, they can command higher prices. They've just got to ride it out." Despite the same-store sales declines, Abercrombie's earnings and revenue are likely to grow this year. Pierce said. For the first three quarters of this year, Abercrombie earned $102.1 million, or $1.01 per diluted share, on $1.1 billion in sales. In the same period last year, the company earned $89.5 million on $898 million in sales. In November, Abercrombie's sales hit $158.7 million overall, up 4% from the $152.7 million the company posted in November 2001. At the end of last month, the company operated 593 stores, compared with 483 at the end of November last year. "I'm not thrilled about
For Abercrombie and Fitch ( ANF), the losing streak continues. The apparel retailer on Thursday announced that sales at stores open more than a year declined a whopping 13% in November. The performance marked Abercrombie's 8th straight month of slumping same-store sales and the 18th in the last 19 months. A late Thanksgiving was the retailer's explanation, although the company's refusal to discount heavily was a more likely cause. The consensus among Wall Street analysts was that Abercrombie's comparable store sales would decline 8.8% in November, noted Emme Kozloff, an analyst with Bernstein. "That's an order of magnitude higher than I expected," Kozloff said of the 13% number. Bernstein does not have any investment banking relationships with Abercrombie. Like other retailers who struggled in November, Abercrombie blamed the slump in part on Thanksgiving coming later than normal this year. That got the holiday shopping season off to a late start, with fewer post-Thanksgiving shopping days falling in November. "This change in the calendar should benefit December somewhat," said Seth Johnson, the company's chief operating officer, in a conference call. But he added, "It's difficult to predict what impact the calendar shift will have on our overall holiday business." Other apparel retailers also experienced tough times in November. Ann Taylor Stores, for instance, posted a same-store sales decline of 10.3% compared with November 2001. Comparable-store sales also fell at Bebe Stores ( BEBE) and American Eagle Outfitters ( AEOS) by 15% and 4.9%, respectively. But the story wasn't all negative for apparel retailers. Apparel specialty stores tracked by Instinet Research posted same-store sales gains of 1.1% in November compared with the same time last year, the firm said in its Redbook same-store sales report. Among the banner performers were Gap ( GPS), Chico's and Pacific Sunwear, which increased their same-store sales 9%, 11.3% and 11.7%, respectively. But not all of Abercrombie's problems had to do with the late Thanksgiving.
Brian Tunick, an analyst with J.P. Morgan, agrees that the company is doing the right thing by avoiding discounts. But he says that Abercrombie's stock price is not likely to appreciate until it starts to improve its comparable-store sales. Abercrombie shares were down $1.50, or 6.3%, to $22.31 in late-afternoon trading on Thursday. Although the company's stock has appreciated by more than 50% since mid-October, it is down about 8% this year. "The majority of investors don't expect them to grow the bottom line until their top line begins to accelerate," Tunick said. "In this environment, comps are the No. 1 driver of retail multiples." Although analysts broadly agree that the company should sacrifice comparable-store sales for shoring up its brand, the company definitely is running a risk, said Bernstein's Kozloff. Noting that Gap's same-store sales increased while those of Abercrombie declined by double digits, Kozloff questioned whether Gap was stealing sales from the teen retailers. "Customers have been responding heavily to the promotional activity," she said. "Hopefully
Abercrombie's loyalty won't shift because of that."