Ann Taylor Owner Falls After Slow Traffic Weighs on Forecast

Ascena Retail Group Inc., owner of the Ann Taylor, Justice and Lane Bryant women’s-clothing chains, suffered its worst stock decline ever after weak store traffic hurt its earnings forecast.

Excluding some items, profit will be 60 to 65 cents a share in the fiscal year that ends in July 2017, the Mahwah, New Jersey-based company said Monday. Analysts had estimated 82 cents, on average.

The forecast suggests that Ascena -- which posted a 4 percent drop in fourth-quarter same-store sales -- doesn’t expect trends to improve any time soon. Chief Executive Officer David Jaffe pinned the disappointing performance on “a highly competitive selling environment and significant store traffic headwinds.”

“While we are seeing good customer demand during peak periods, off-peak demand has been inconsistent, and fourth quarter financial performance fell well below our expectations,” he said in the statement.

The shares fell as much as 29 percent to $5.80 in New York Tuesday, the biggest intraday decline since the stock began trading in 1985. Ascena already had slid 18 percent this year through Monday.

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