Talbots (TLB) missed fourth-quarter estimates and guided lower for the first quarter, citing weaker-than-expected sales at its J. Jill and Talbots stores. The company cut its 2007 store-opening plan to 70 from 90.

The Hingham, Mass., apparel retailer said it will post a break-even fourth quarter, missing the 30-cent Thomson Financial target by a wide margin. Talbots said earnings at the Talbots operation dropped to 30 cents a share from 37 cents a year earlier, while the recently acquired J. Jill unit ran a 12-cent loss and acquisition-related costs reduced earnings by 14 cents. The company also recognized a 4-cent-a-share hit from stock options expenses.

"Although in line with other specialty apparel retailers, sales trends for both our brands are significantly below our expectations for the fourth quarter," said CEO Arnold Zetcher. "As a result, we anticipate total company fourth quarter comparable-store sales will be approximately flat with last year, reflecting slightly negative comps for the Talbots brand and slightly positive comps for the J. Jill brand."

The company said it expects to make 36 cents to 43 cents a share for the first quarter, including 12 cents a share in acquisition-related costs. Wall Street was looking for 56 cents.

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