November 17, 2009 / 1:47 PM / 8 years ago

Saks beats Street, shares up

<p>The outside of the Saks Fifth Avenue store is seen in New York October 8, 2009. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton</p>

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Upscale U.S. department store operator Saks Inc SKS.N reported a quarterly profit that beat Wall Street expectations for a loss, stoking investor hopes for a luxury market recovery and sending shares up 4.4 percent.

Saks estimated same-store sales in the fourth quarter, including the holiday shopping season, would be down “in the high single digits” after a year of double-digit declines in luxury sales.

And it warned that while the luxury market may be improving, consumers remain “shell shocked” and will likely focus on value for some time.

“As we look to next year, we remain cautious about the environment and are planning accordingly. We continue to focus on what we can control: inventory, expenses and capital spending,” Saks Chief Executive Stephen Sadove said.

Saks posted a net profit of $1.9 million, or 1 cent a share in the third quarter that ended October 31, from a loss of $43.7 million, or 32 cents a share, a year earlier. Analysts had forecast a loss per share of 11 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Saks, which sells brands such as Marc Jacobs, Versace and Oscar de la Renta, reported overall sales fell 8.5 percent to $631.4 million in the third quarter. It said same store sales were down 10.1 percent during the quarter.

Shares were up 4.4 percent to $6.69 midday, but earlier had risen as much as 10.2 percent.

LUXURY‘S LOSSES REMAIN

The company has kept a tight rein on inventories and expenses to manage further demand declines. Sales at its flagship Saks Fifth Avenue Store in New York City had shown “meaningful improvement,” boosted in part by tourists, it said. It also reported improved trends women’s designer sportswear and jewelry.

Analysts echoed Saks’ caution.

“Despite an improvement in trends amid expense reductions, less inventory, and easier comparisons, Saks will probably produce losses over the next year,” Lazard Capital Markets analyst Todd Slater wrote in a note to clients.

Citi analyst Deborah Weinswig noted Saks’ high end customers remain exposed to the effects of “turmoil in the financial markets” and the chain’s flagship store could be vulnerable to a potential decline in tourism.

Saks’s effort to control inventory and costs helped send its gross margin rate up to 40.3 percent from 35.7 percent a year earlier. Consolidated inventories as of October 31 were down 21.4 percent to $799.1 million compared to a year earlier.

Sadove said the company did not plan to open any new Saks Fifth Avenue stores in 2010 or make any major renovations to its stores.

Last week, upscale department store Nordstrom Inc (JWN.N) reported third-quarter profit that missed expectations, raising doubts about its holiday season performance.

Separately, Dillard’s Inc (DDS.N) and TJX Cos Inc (TJX.N) reported results on Tuesday, with Dillard’s posting a profit and TJX beating Wall Street expectations.

Editing by Michele Gershberg, Dave Zimmerman and Leslie Gevirtz

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