Nordstrom’s fourth-quarter earnings failed to meet Wall Street expectations, following on a dismal third quarter in which it also failed to meet analysts’ expectations and lowered its outlook for the year.
Even though Nordstrom’s fourth-quarter earnings improved on a dismal third quarter, continuing doldrums in the apparel retail industry helped drag down the results it reported Thursday.
The company failed to meet analysts’ expectations for the quarter, which included the all-important holiday shopping season. Nordstrom also offered a soft forecast for the upcoming year.
Sales at the company’s stores, especially its full-line stores, were weak while its e-commerce numbers grew. And executives said they hope to wring more profit out of its online operation while cutting expenses in several areas.
For the quarter ended Jan. 30, Nordstrom reported earnings per share of $1.00 on total sales of $4.19 billion.
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Wall Street analysts had expected earnings per share of $1.22 on sales of $4.22 billion, according to estimates collected by Yahoo Finance.
While sales increased 3.7 percent over the year-ago quarter, profit declined 29.4 percent.
Comparable sales — meaning sales in stores open for at least one year — increased 1 percent from the year-ago period.
“Clearly, this was a difficult period with industry-sales declines and increased promotional activity resulting in compressed merchandise margins,” Mike Koppel, Nordstrom’s chief financial officer, said during Thursday’s earnings conference call with analysts.
While 2015 was seen as “a peak investment year” for Nordstrom, the current environment “requires us to pivot even more as we remain focused on improving profitability,” Blake Nordstrom, co-president, said during the call. “In response, we are making adjustments to reduce expense and capital spending in 2016 and in the coming years.”
The company’s $4 billion five-year capital-expenditure plan represents a cut of $300 million in store investments relative to last year’s plan. And it intends to focus its online technology efforts on fewer, more meaningful projects, Koppel said.
Much of the falloff in profit can be attributed to sales declines in Nordstrom’s full-line stores, which make up the bulk of its retail business.
At those stores, net sales decreased 2.5 percent over the year-ago quarter while comparable sales decreased 3.2 percent.
Its off-price Nordstrom Rack, meanwhile, saw net sales increase 6.9 percent, though comparable sales decreased 3 percent.
Unseasonably warm temperatures the past several months meant customers weren’t buying as much fall and winter clothing — a phenomenon that affected not just Nordstrom but other retailers as well, said Neil Saunders, a retail analyst with Conlumino.
Though Nordstrom said it moved quickly to reduce inventory by holding promotional activities and discounts, it still saw inventory growth of 12 percent.
Given customers’ reluctance to buy clothing this past season and the need for retailers to discount items to move inventory, Saunders said, “Nordstrom probably is a victim of its own policy in developing Rack because a lot of customers have migrated over this holiday season to the more discounted format.”
“It’s not a dumb policy in terms of where the market’s going,” Saunders said. “But this quarter, it’s not done Nordstrom any favors in terms of the full-line stores.”
Nordstrom’s heavy investment in building up its online business over the past few years showed results, as net sales from Nordstrom.com increased 11 percent over the year-ago quarter.
Nordstromrack.com and HauteLook net sales increased 50 percent.
But while e-commerce has grown to represent 20 percent of Nordstrom’s sales, up from 8 percent five years ago, building out that infrastructure has meant that “expenses in recent years have grown faster than sales,” Koppel said. The company is focusing now on “how to turn a lot of that growth into some more profit,” he said.
For the full year ended Jan. 31, the company reported earnings per share of $3.15 on sales of $14.44 billion.
While that sales figure was up 6.9 percent from the prior fiscal year, profit declined 16.7 percent to $600 million.
Nordstrom’s annual revenues met analyst expectations of $14.43 billion, but it fell short of their $3.37 earnings per share expectations.
The company also issued a soft outlook for 2016, saying it expects full-year earnings per share of $3.10 to $3.35, short of the $3.53 expected by analysts, as compiled by Yahoo Finance.
Nordstrom’s continued expansion — it plans to open three new full-line stores and 20 new Nordstrom Rack stores in 2016 — means it can continue to deliver sales growth. But that growth also comes with expenses that can hurt performance.
“While Nordstrom has been one of the players that’s really advanced over the years, this coming year is probably going to be a year of treading water,” said Saunders, the Conlumino analyst. “We probably won’t see much growth in profit though we’ll probably see growth in sales from store openings.”
Nordstrom shares closed Thursday at $52.70, up 0.9 percent, but the stock was down 8 percent in after-hours trading.