Express shares crater as tough times at the mall force retailer to trim outlook

Key Points
  • Express' first-quarter same-store sales fell 10 percent.
  • The retailer now expects comparable sales for the year to be in the negative-low single digits, down from a previous estimate of flat-to-low single digits.
  • "We also expect store traffic [to] remain challenging and the retail environment to remain promotional," CFO Perry Pericleous warned analysts and investors.
Pedestrians walk past an Express Inc. store in New York, U.S., on Wednesday, May 31, 2017.
Mark Kauziarich | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Express is fashion's latest victim.

The retailer's shares sank on the heels of its disappointing first-quarter report Thursday. It closed at $6.27, down more than 19 percent.

With Thursday's losses, the stock has tumbled more than 56 percent over the past 12 months and is down about 40 percent for the year-to-date period.

First-quarter same-store sales, including those made on its e-commerce platform, fell 10 percent, compared to a 3 percent drop in the same period a year ago, Express said Thursday.

"Like other apparel retailers, Express has been impacted by a decline in customer traffic to malls and in waning interest in apparel," GlobalData Retail analyst Hakon Helgesen wrote in an email.

"This has a lot more to do with weak traffic issues than merchandise issues," Steven Marotta, a research analyst for C. L. King & Associates, told CNBC in an interview. "People just don't go to the mall anymore."

Lululemon soars on earnings, RH plummets after hours

The million-dollar question is if this trend will continue for Express in the coming quarters, or if sales will start to pick up, Marotta said.

"I think it hinges more on macroeconomic factors impacting consumers' spending on soft goods than it does Express' ability," he said.

Marotta cited the fact that Express' e-commerce sales climbed 27 percent for the quarter. "If they weren't doing those things right, people wouldn't be buying their stuff online."

Meanwhile, Express continues to close stores. During the first quarter it closed nine, and it will shutter an additional 11 stores by the end of this year.

This is higher than the 10 closures Express had initially planned for the full year, "and reflects the proactive approach we're taking in managing our fleet," the company said.

Express reported an adjusted loss of 6 cents a share for the latest period, which included a loss of 3 cents per share related to "certain discrete tax items" and shuttering its Canadian stores, the company said. The adjusted earnings were short of a Thomson Reuters' forecast for a 3 cent loss.

Sales fell 7 percent to $467 million from a year ago and missed a $467.9 million Thomson Reuters' forecast.

The apparel chain said it now expects comparable sales for the year to be in the negative-low single digits, down from a previous estimate of flat-to-low single digits.

"Our updated guidance reflects adjusted numbers excluding the impact from exiting Canada," CFO Perry Pericleous said on a call with analysts and investors. "We expect our sales and market performance to improve as we move through the year. We also expect store traffic [to] remain challenging and the retail environment to remain promotional."

Express now expects to earn between 41 cents and 48 cents a share, on an adjusted basis, for the year, down sharply from a previous forecast of 65 cents to 73 cents a share.

Industry report after industry report tells of slowing customer traffic and predicts the closure of more malls. This week, Credit Suisse estimated 25 percent of all U.S. malls will need to close by 2022.

Part of this is fueled by the growing threat from

"However, in the case of Express, these prevailing trends are made worse because the chain has weak visibility, even among its target demographics," Helgesen wrote. "It is not a brand that is foremost of mind and so is particularly reliant on passing footfall to bolster trade."

Express has been trying to address these issues with its product and by improving the experience of shopping with the retailer.

On its earnings conference call, the company said its efforts were "gaining traction," and it highlighted what separates it from e-commerce giant Amazon.

"We can create a curated assortment for the customer with a very specific fashion point of view, which is more difficult for someone like Amazon to do," CEO David Kornberg said on the earnings conference call.

"We also have bricks-and-mortar stores and have a better opportunity to create a better customer experience than they do at this point. So those are things that are in our favor in ways we can combat Amazon longer term," he said.

Also, Express has stepped up its marketing efforts by partnering with supermodel Karlie Kloss in a spring advertising campaign.

But GlobalData Retail's Helgesen said he doesn't expect the current marketing efforts "go far enough in giving Express the distinct personality or point of view that it needs to thrive in the crowded apparel market ... There is much more work to do to inject energy into a brand that is still somewhat lifeless."

EXPR 12-month performance

Source: FactSet

Watch: A tale of two retailers

JILL & KORS: A tale of two retailers