Gap to shut more stores as demand remains sluggish

(Reuters) - Apparel chain Gap Inc GPS.N said it would shut more stores than forecast previously and that it expected a further drop in traffic during the crucial holiday shopping season.

A woman carrying an umbrella passes by a Gap store on 5th avenue in midtown Manhattan in New York June 16, 2015. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid

The company’s shares fell 4.9 percent to $29.21 after the bell on Thursday.

“Given that challenging traffic trends have continued, we are investing meaningfully in marketing across our portfolio brands during the holiday season,” outgoing Chief Financial Officer Sabrina Simmons said on an earnings call.

Gap said it now expected to shut about 65 company-operated stores this year, compared with its previous forecast of about 50 stores.

Traditional apparel chains are struggling with the growing popularity of online retailers and fast-fashion chains such as H&M HMb.ST, Forever 21 and Inditex's ITX.MC Zara, which are known for offering trendier clothes at cheaper prices.

Gap reaffirmed its adjusted profit forecast of $1.87 to $1.92 per share for the full year. Analysts on average were expecting $2.02, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

The company reported its seventh straight quarterly sales decline in the three months ended Oct. 29 as demand for its Gap and Banana Republic brands remained sluggish.

Gap has been trying to replicate the success of its low-end Old Navy brand at its Gap and Banana Republic chains since Art Peck took over as chief executive last year.

The company’s net income fell to $204 million, or 51 cents per share, in the third quarter ended Oct. 29 from $248 million, or 61 cents per share, a year earlier.

Excluding restructuring costs, the company earned 60 cents per share, in line with analysts’ estimates.

The company said same-store sales fell 3 percent in the quarter, in line with analysts’ estimate, according to Consensus Metrix.

Net sales fell to $3.80 billion from $3.86 billion.

Up to Thursday’s close, the San Francisco-based company’s stock has risen 24.3 percent this year.

Reporting by Jessica Kuruthukulangara in Bengaluru; Editing by Anil D’Silva