Ascena Misses Earnings, Lowers View - Analyst Blog

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Battered by increased promotional and markdown activity along with higher operating expenses, Ascena Retail Group Inc .'s ( ASNA ) adjusted earnings of 26 cents per share for third-quarter fiscal2013 declined 23.5% from the comparable year-ago quarter number of 34 cents. Moreover, quarterly earnings came below the Zacks Consensus Estimate of 31 cents per share.

On a reported basis, including the effect of one-time items and discontinued operations, the company's earnings were 19 cents per share versus 31 cents in the year-ago same quarter.

Quarter in Detail

Benefiting from the acquisitions of Lane Bryant and Catherines businesses, Ascena's net sales for the quarter grew approximately 46% year over year to $1,142.2 million. However, the figure fell short of the Zacks Consensus Estimate of $1,173.0 million.

Comparable store sales (comps) dropped 1%, as positive comps at the company's e-Commerce business (up 37%) was more than offset by weakened comps at its stores (down 4%). Brand-wise, comps at Justice, Lane Bryant, maurices and dressbarn declined by 4%, 6%, 3% and 7%, respectively, partially offset by an 8% growth registered across its Catherines brand.

Gross profit increased 43.0% to $657.8 million from $459.9 million in the prior-year period. However, gross profit margin contracted 110 basis points (bps) to 57.6% from the year-ago level. The decline in gross margin was mainly due to increased markdowns and promotional activity, especially at dressbarn.

During the quarter, a 60.4% increase in buying, distribution and occupancy expenses (BD&O) and 51.6% rise in selling, general and administrative expenses (SG&A) led to a year-over-year decline of 22.9% in operating income of $65.8 million. Consequently, operating margin plummeted 510 bps to 5.8%. On an adjusted basis, Ascena's operating income came at $72.7 million or 6.4% of sales.

Balance Sheet

Ascena ended the third quarter of fiscal 2013 with cash and short-term investments of $206.1 million compared with $168.9 million at the end of the fiscal 2012. Total debt at quarter-end was $155.6 million compared with $326.6 million at the end of fiscal 2012.

During the quarter, Ascena increased its revolving credit facility to $500 million of which it used $279.3 million to repay its outstanding principal balance of term loan.

Fiscal 2013 Outlook Revised

Disappointing quarterly performance compelled management to lower its earnings guidance for fiscal 2013 to $1.10-$1.15 per share from $1.20-$1.30 forecasted earlier. The company's earnings guidance for fiscal 2013 excludes the one-time, financing and acquisition related charges toward integration, restructuring and purchase accounting of the Charming Shoppes Inc. acquisition.

Further, Ascena expects comps for the remaining period of fourth-quarter fiscal 2013 to be in the range of flat to up low-single-digits. Moreover, it projects to open net 50-60 new stores during the spring season.

Other Stocks to Consider

Currently, Ascena carries a Zacks Rank #4 (Sell). Better performing stocks among apparel/shoe retailers include American Apparel, Inc .( APP ), Gap Inc .( GPS ) and Stein Mart Inc . ( SMRT ), all of which have a Zacks Rank #2 (Buy).

AMER APPAREL (APP): Free Stock Analysis Report

ASCENA RETAIL (ASNA): Free Stock Analysis Report

GAP INC (GPS): Free Stock Analysis Report

STEIN MART INC (SMRT): Free Stock Analysis Report

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The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.

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