Public companies post December sales

Disappointing holiday sales were the rule rather than the exception for publicly traded catalogers.

For instance, apparel cataloger/retailer The Talbots (NYSE: TLB) reported sales of $201.9 million for the five weeks ended Jan. 4, down 3% from $207.6 million for the same period of the previous year. December same-store sales fell 9%, much wider than the 5% drop expected by analysts.

“Our December comparable-store sales leading up to the Christmas holiday were below our expectations, and we believe they largely reflect the ongoing difficult economic and retail environment,” chairman/president/CEO Arnold B. Zetcher said in a statement. “We did see a modest improvement in our trends later in the month, however, as we began our traditional post-Christmas semiannual sale event. In addition, our catalog business, which includes Internet, generated above-plan sales results for the period.”

Hingham, MA-based Talbots now expects fourth-quarter earnings of $0.42-$0.47 per share, down from a prior estimate of $0.48-$0.53 a share. For the fourth quarter of fiscal 2001, the company had earned $0.53 a share.

Meanwhile, Downers Grove, IL-based Spiegel Group (OTC: SPGLA) continued to struggle. The parent of the Newport News, Eddie Bauer, and Spiegel catalogs reported sales of $371.8 million for the five weeks ended Dec. 28, down 17% $447.8 million the previous year. Sales at Eddie Bauer fell 7%; Newport News suffered a 25% decline and Spiegel catalog a 41% plummet. The company says that sales results for Newport News and Spiegel catalog reflect a significant reduction in catalog pages circulated as well as the continuing impact of the company’s more-restrictive credit-granting measures with regard to its private-label credit card.

Combined catalog/Internet sales at cataloger/retailer J.C. Penney Co. (NYSE: JCP) were down nearly 24% for December and 18% for November and December combined. But the Plano, TX-based general merchandiser said that was in line with expectations, given circulation cuts. E-commerce sales were up about 20% for November and December compared with 2001. Total company sales for the nine weeks ended Dec. 28 were $7.47 billion, up 1% from the comparable period of 2001.

On the brighter side, at the direct division at New York-based cataloger/retailer J. Crew, net sales for the five weeks ended Jan. 4 were up 12% from the previous year. Internet sales increased to $26.1 million from $21.0 million, while catalog sales were flat at $21.7 million. Total company revenue rose 6%, to $132.0 million from $124.6 million last year. Comparable store sales, however, declined 6%.

December sales at the catalog division of luxury marketer Neiman-Marcus Group (NYSE: NMGa), which mails the Horchow, Chef’s Catalog, and Neiman Marcus titles, rose 3%, helped by strong sales of furniture, home accessories, and linens. Total catalog and retail sales for the five weeks ended Jan. 4 were $473 million, down slightly from $474 million last year, which the Dallas-based company blamed on lower-than-expected sales of jewelry and gifts.

Limited Brands (NYSE: LTD), which owns cataloger/retailer Victoria’s Secret and retail chains Express and The Limited, among others, reported flat December same-store sales. But total sales for the Columbus, OH-based company rose 4%, to $1.65 billion for the five weeks ended Jan. 5.

Santa came through for home furnishings cataloger/retailer Restoration Hardware (Nasdaq: RSTO) as well. The Corte Madera, CA-based marketer posted a whopping 20% increase in November and December catalog and Internet sales. Total company net sales for the nine weeks ended Jan. 4 were $127.4 million, up 4% from $122.2 million for the comparable period of the previous fiscal year. Comparable store sales for holiday period increased 2%.

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