May 29 (Bloomberg) -- Abercrombie & Fitch Co., the clothing retailer working to regain teens’ favor, posted a first-quarter loss that was narrower than analysts estimated as new styles of shorts and crop tops slowed its sales decline.
Excluding some items, the loss in the quarter ended May 3 was 17 cents a share, the New Albany, Ohio-based company said in a statement today. The average of 34 analysts’ estimates compiled by Bloomberg was for a loss of 19 cents.
Chief Executive Officer Mike Jeffries has been working to revive Abercrombie’s appeal among teenage shoppers who’ve strayed from the chain in favor of fast-fashion purveyors such as Forever 21 and Hennes & Mauritz AB. Abercrombie has introduced new crop tops with varying sleeve lengths and different styles of shorts to appeal to shoppers seeking a more customized look. First-quarter sales fell 1.9 percent to $822.4 million, topping analysts’ $796.3 million average estimate.
“They made some substantial improvements to their fashion,” Stephanie Wissink, a Minneapolis-based analyst at Piper Jaffray Cos., said in an interview. “They’ve done a good job of making the merchandise presentation more impactful. They’ve made it more of a bold statement.”
She recommends buying the shares.
Abercrombie rose 5.8 percent to $37.14 at the close in New York. The shares have gained 13 percent this year, compared with a 3.9 percent increase in the Standard & Poor’s 500 Index.
Abercrombie maintained its forecast for profit per share of $2.15 to $2.35 this year. Analysts estimate $2.35.
First-quarter sales at stores open at least a year and online decreased 4 percent, slower than the 17 percent drop a year earlier and less than analysts’ average estimate for a 6.9 percent decline.
The net loss for the quarter widened to $23.7 million, or 32 cents a share, from $7.2 million, or 9 cents, a year earlier, the company said.
Abercrombie has been undergoing rapid change. The chain has cut Jeffries’s pay and stripped him of the chairman role. It created a new chief operating officer job and named four new independent directors to the board as part of a deal with activist investor Engaged Capital LLC.
The retailer also is working to reposition its brands. The main Abercrombie nameplate will be aimed at shoppers with more money to spend, rather than teens. The Hollister brand, a Southern California-influenced clothing line, will use low prices and rapidly changing styles to recapture customers who have turned to chains like Forever 21.
In an effort to lure shoppers back into stores, Abercrombie is revamping its mall-based locations. The Hollister stores are brighter, the music has been turned down, and the company has reduced the fragrance spritzed among the racks by 25 percent. The blinds have come off the Abercrombie windows in favor of displays and mannequins showcasing the clothing.
The chain has updated its merchandise, too. It has introduced black clothing, added larger sizes and will roll out a “classic fit” T-shirt online that’s looser than the company’s standard muscle-style shirt. Abercrombie also is reducing the use of logos across its brands and partnering with third parties to produce new items.
This holiday season, some Abercrombie brand products will be sold through London-based ASOS Plc, an Internet apparel retailer that targets shoppers ages 20 to 30, Jeffries said today on a conference call. The company will also introduce a redesigned Hollister website this fall.
“Given ASOS’s strong and growing traffic, this partnership will enable us to increase brand consideration and engagement with an attractive margin structure,” Jeffries said.
The company has aligned 69-year-old Jeffries’s compensation with the retailer’s performance. He didn’t receive any performance-based bonuses in fiscal 2013, accounting for much of the decrease in his total compensation. He also didn’t get a cash bonus or any equity awards during the year because Abercrombie failed to achieve financial targets and its stock performed poorly. Jeffries’s salary remained about the same.
The company’s stock fell 31 percent in 2013, marking the third straight year of declines.
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