Abercrombie & Fitch: Better Luck Overseas?
As teens in the market for back-to-school clothes are giving a pass to the once scorching hot Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE: ANF) clothing retailer, so are Wall Street analysts who caution investors against bargain-shopping Abercrombie shares, which plunged Wednesday in after-hours trading.
The company reported Wednesday that it expects to earn between 15 and 18 cents a share for the three month period that ended July 28, about half what analysts had forecasted. It slashed its full-year earnings outlook to $2.50 from $2.75, which just two and half months ago were expected to hit between $3.50 and $3.75 a share. Late Wednesday, Abercrombie shares trading at around $34 plummeted and continued to fall Thursday before appearing to rest at $29 and change Friday afternoon.
A strong dollar, higher tax rates and ongoing weakness in consumer spending accounted for disappointing sales, according to the company. But these trends affect all retailers, and the company's plan to offset losses—principally pulling back overseas expansion, opening only 30 Hollister locations this year, down from 40 last year—may hold little charm for bargain-hunters requiring fundamentals to support the stock through a slump.
According to Lorraine Hutchinson of Bank of America Merrill Lynch, reining in overseas operations will allow the company to preserve capital and get a better handle on the challenges of growth—but that move in turn will likely result in slower earnings growth.
Other analysts see darker days for the retailer both internationally and domestically.
"Although the company has potential for margin recovery in the second half of 2012, we continue to avoid the stock given the weakening trends seen in the company's international business," Janney Montgomery Scott analyst Adrienne Tennant wrote. "We also believe the company continues to see a deceleration in the domestic business."
In short, Abercrombie & Fitch is no longer the darling of teens with dollars. With inventory high for months, it has been forced to discount merchandise as young shoppers increasingly favor other brands.
To think it was almost a year ago that Abercrombie's stock fell more than 8 percent, to around $65 a share. The company had held a cautionary call with analysts, following its publicly offering a cast member of MTV's “Jersey Shore” payment to not wear its clothing on air because the “association is contrary to the aspirational nature of our brand, and may be distressing to many of our fans.”
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