Nordstrom's first quarter profit of 51 cents a share beat analyst estimates. The Seattle-based retailer said sales were up 6.3 percent from a year earlier.
Nordstrom, putting its namesake family’s unsuccessful take-private effort in the rear-view mirror, reported a first-quarter profit that surpassed the expectations of Wall Street analysts. But other details in the Seattle retailer’s report prompted a 7 percent dip in its stock price after the earnings news.
The Seattle-based retailer remains under scrutiny as it invests in an ongoing digital transformation and expansions in New York City and Canada, all while trying to expand profit margins after five consecutive years of shrinkage.
The freedom to operate without the glare of that scrutiny was part of the Nordstrom family’s impetus for a take-private effort begun last summer. Their buyout bid came to an end in March when independent members of the company’s board of directors rejected a $50-a-share price floated by the family, and the family was either unwilling or unable to substantially increase their offer above that level.
“The company does not plan to comment further on go-private effort exploration process by the Nordstrom family,” said investor relations director Trina Schurman at the outset of Nordstrom’s conference call with financial analysts Thursday afternoon.
The impact of Seattle’s just-passed head tax on Nordstrom also was not raised, either by executives or analysts.
Nordstrom reported a profit of $87 million on first-quarter revenue of $3.56 billion, up 6.3 percent from a year earlier. That worked out to earnings of 51 cents a share, handily beating the 43 cent-per-share average estimate of 21 financial analysts covering the company.
Despite that, investors bid Nordstrom shares down 7 percent in after-hours trading, finishing at $47.33.
The closely watched comparable-store sales figure – a measure of growth at a retailer’s existing outlets – was a mixed bag for Nordstrom during the quarter.
Last quarter, it shifted to a new financial reporting model that lumps together its full-price offerings, both online and physical stores, in one category, and its off-price businesses in another.
While full-price retail’s comparable sales increased 0.7 percent, in line with management’s expectations, that was a slowdown from the fourth quarter of 2017, when full-price comps were up 2.4 percent, drawing the attention of some analysts. Nordstrom stores president Jamie Nordstrom attributed this slowdown to lower online traffic resulting from marketing-related changes made early in the quarter.
Meanwhile, comparable sales in Nordstrom’s off-price business increased 0.4 percent, compared to an increase of 3.7 percent in the prior quarter. Co-president Blake Nordstrom said digital sales in the off-price business – at its Nordstromrack.com and HauteLook e-commerce sites — were strong, but sales in Nordstrom Rack stores did not grow at the rate expected.
The company maintained its full-year target of comparable sales growth of 0.5 percent to 1.5 percent.
Chief financial officer Anne Bramman said Nordstrom can grow its gross margins in 2018 and beyond as investments it has made in new markets, technologies and acquisitions, including Trunk Club and HauteLook, begin to pay off.
The company plans to invest an additional $3.2 billion over the next years – about 4 percent of expected sales – to continue building its presence in Manhattan and Canada, and online.
Nordstrom is also planning to resume repurchasing its own shares, which it had discontinued during the family’s take-private effort.
As it makes ongoing capital investments – almost half of which will go to technology investments and order fulfillment infrastructure – Nordstrom continues to develop strategies to weave together its digital and physical sales channels.
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Co-president Erik Nordstrom said digitally enabled sales – not just purchases made online, but also in-store purchases with digital assists, such as through the company’s Style Board sales tool – are among the company’s most profitable, and yield the highest levels of customer satisfaction. This category made up 29 percent of net sales in the quarter, and the company is focused now on getting ever more customers to buy in this way. “We have a challenge on awareness,” he said.
Nordstrom has closed two to three full-line stores a year during the last couple years, a pace Erik Nordstrom said would likely continue. “We certainly don’t anticipate large-scale store closings,” he said. “All of our stores are profitable both in Rack and our full-line stores.”
It also continues opening new stores – eight so far in its current fiscal year, including its new men’s store in Manhattan, and seven Nordstrom Rack stores, three in Canada, four in the U.S.
Nordstrom had 373 stores across North America as of May 5, up from 353 at the time last year.