Francesca's CEO to retire, shares fall

Tue Sep 4, 2012 6:06pm EDT

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(Reuters) - Francesca's Holdings Corp's (FRAN.O) Chief Executive John De Meritt, who helped the women's specialty retailer better understand fast-changing fashion trends, will retire at the end of this year.

The company's shares, which have risen nearly 30 percent since it made its market debut last year, fell 4 percent at $34.51 in after-market trading. They closed at $36.07 on the Nasdaq on Tuesday.

Francesca's said De Meritt will retire to pursue personal endeavors, and appointed President Neill Davis as CEO, effective January 1, 2013.

De Meritt spent more than a decade building Francesca's, which was founded in 1999, shaping it into a fast-fashion retailer by successfully reading demand trends and changing fashions while reducing the risks of stocks growing old.

The company, which specializes in affordable clothing for customers in the 18 to 35 age group, recorded net sales $204.2 million in 2011, up from $79.4 million in 2009 — a compound annual growth rate of 60.4 percent.

It diversified into apparel, which has become its largest category, from focusing on selling fashion jewelry, accessories and home decor.

Francesca's raised its full-year adjusted earnings forecast to between 96 cents and 98 cents per share on Tuesday from between 89 cents and 91 cents estimated earlier.

Analysts on average were expecting 2012 earnings of 91 cents per share, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The company also reported earnings above analysts' expectations for the fourth straight quarter, as margins improved across categories — particularly in jewelry.

Second-quarter earnings rose to $12.7 million, or 28 cents per share, from $5.5 million, or 13 cents per share a year earlier.

Revenue rose 49 percent to $76.3 million.

Analysts expected it to earn 24 cents.

Comparable boutique sales increased 20.7 percent, following an increase of 5.4 percent last year.

(Reporting by Juhi Arora in Bangalore; Editing by Joyjeet Das)

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