Victoria's Secret parent gets another downgrade for having too many stores in mediocre malls

Brazilian supermodel Alessandra Ambrosio attends the opening ceremony of Asia's first Victoria's Secret flagship store on March 08, 2017 in Shanghai, China.
Barcroft Images | Barcroft Media | Getty Images

Another Wall Street analyst is losing confidence in the once high-flying parent of Victoria's Secret.

Citi analyst Paul Lejuez on Tuesday downgraded L Brands' shares to neutral from buy, saying the company is operating in too many mediocre or underperforming malls.

The ratings cut comes just two weeks after KeyBanc analyst Ed Yruma downgraded the company's stock to underweight because half of its 2,600-plus U.S. stores are located in "B" and "C" malls.

L Brands' shares fell 3 percent in early trading Tuesday, to near $44.31. They've lost nearly half of their value over the past year.

"The 2017 L Brands stock story likely comes down to [the second half]," Lejuez told investors. "If business stabilizes, we will look back on the past 12 months and be impressed with how well they managed through all the challenges they faced."

However, if sales and/or pressure on L Brands' gross margin continues, "we will question if there is any stabilization in sight," Lejuez said.

L Brands has been working through a slew of challenges at its Victoria's Secret brand. The label discontinued its catalog, exited the $500 million swim category and is focusing on lower-margin products such as bralettes and sport bras.

It's also struggled to bring traffic into its stores due to self-inflicted and macroeconomic pressures. They include a tweak to its promotional strategy and a shift toward online shopping.

In February, L Brands issued first-quarter and 2017 guidance that fell well short of Wall Street's expectations. Victoria's Secret has posted double-digit comparable sales declines in the first two months of the year.

Jefferies analyst Randal Konik has gone so far as to say that Victoria's Secret has a branding problem, as women are no longer interested in the bombshell look that defines its aesthetic. He has an underperform rating on its stock.

Still, not everyone has lost faith in the brand. FBR Capital Markets last month upgraded L Brands' shares to buy, arguing its consumers have stayed loyal.

L Brands will report its March sales on Thursday.