Claiborne’s Strategic Shift: Out of Own Retail, Mexx in the Mix

In posting a 39.7 percent rise in fourth-quarter earnings Thursday, Liz Claiborne said it will close all 22 remaining freestanding U.S. Claiborne stores.

Michael Scarpa, chief financial officer, said that wholesale sales of apparel increased 13.6 percent to $634 million in the quarter, attributable to Ellen Tracy and the growth of Mexx, as well as solid increases at Sigrid Olsen and Lucky Brand. In the nonapparel segment, sales were up 5.6 percent to $138 million, driven by gains in fragrances and handbags. Retail sales rose 11.9 percent to $216.9 million. The outlet business, not affected by the specialty retail restructuring focus, posted a 4.8 percent gain to $110.9 million.

Angela Ahrendts, senior vice president and group president for the modern brands, said the integration of Ellen Tracy into the firm has been focused on back-end management. Sales of the Crazy Horse brand were up in the double digits, with the company testing new products at J.C. Penney Co. New to market are recent shipments of J.H. Collectibles. Ahrendts said there was optimism from the first few weeks of selling, with the label "critical" to the firm’s ability to create new product concepts.

UBS Warburg’s Jeffrey Edelman noted that buyers have been enthusiastic about the revived J.H. Collectibles line. He said that strong bookings are anticipated in almost 600 doors and that it should complement the already successful Emma James brand and enhance Liz Claiborne’s presence in department stores such as Marshall Field’s.

Trudy Sullivan, group president for Liz Claiborne, said that sales for the year for the core Liz apparel business were down in the mid-single digits. While units were up during the retail shift from regular price to off-price, the volume increase failed to offset the price decreases. The costume jewelry business saw gains driven by sales in color and key silhouettes such as bold bracelets and chandelier earrings.

The company reaffirmed previous guidance for fiscal 2003 of a sales increase of between 9 and 11 percent and earnings per share in a range of $2.47 to $2.52. First-quarter EPS range is estimated at between 56 and 58 cents. Second-quarter EPS is expected to land between 39 and 41 cents.

For the year, income rose 20.4 percent to $231.2 million, or $2.16 a diluted share, from $192.1 million, or $1.83, last year. Sales were up 7.8 percent to $3.72 billion from $3.45 billion.
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