Whitehall holiday sales fall but forecasts higher fourth quarter profits

Jewelry retailer Whitehall Jewellers Inc. on Wednesday said sales at stores open at least a year-same-store sales-fell 4.7% in November and December, but it expects higher fourth-quarter and full-year profits due to cost controls and efficient inventory management, Reuters reported.

The Chicago-based company, formerly known as Marks Bros. Jewelers, said it expects fourth-quarter earnings of $1.04 to $1.08 a share, Reuters reported. It earned 69 cents a share in the fourth quarter of the previous year.

Total sales for November and December fell 2.2%, to $113.4 million from $116.0 million for the same period in 2000, it said.

“Our disciplined approach to reducing our cost structure, improving merchandise gross margin, closing less productive stores, and reducing both inventory investment and debt levels, when combined with our Christmas performance, will result in higher earnings in fiscal 2001 than in fiscal 2000,” Hugh Patinkin, chairman and chief executive officer, reportedly said in a statement. “While we maintained strong assortments of our best-selling categories, we also reduced average asset inventory levels per store by about 10%. For this, as well as other reasons, we expect fiscal 2002 debt levels to average significantly under fiscal 2001 levels.”