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Jax Daily Record Monday, Mar. 19, 201806:30 AM EST

Stein Mart outlook improves, stock rallies past $1 mark

Earnings reverse loss in fourth quarter fiscal year 2016.
by: Mark Basch Contributing Writer

Six weeks after Stein Mart Inc. announced the company was exploring “potential strategic alternatives,” company officials didn’t address that issue last week in their quarterly conference call.

However, the Jacksonville-based fashion retailer expressed optimism that its sales trends are looking better.

“We have examined and made changes that began to significantly improve results,” CEO Hunt Hawkins said in the conference call.

“With our new practices now in place and business improving, we look forward to positive results in 2018.”

Stein Mart reported adjusted earnings of $3.7 million, or 8 cents a share, for the fourth quarter ended Feb. 3, reversing a loss in the fourth quarter of fiscal 2016.

Sales continued to fall, completing a year in which total sales fell 3.1 percent to $1.32 billion and comparable-store sales (sales at stores open for more than one year) dropped 6.2 percent.

But Stein Mart officials said better inventory management and merchandising are producing encouraging results so far in fiscal 2018.

President MaryAnne Morin said the company looked at sales results in Florida, California and other resort markets.

“Spring selling begins early in those markets and those results can tell us very quickly if we need to adjust our spring plan,” she said.

“In December, we delivered spring merchandise to our resort markets and saw an immediate increase in regular-price selling. This is a key indicator that tells us we got spring right.”

Morin said results continued to look good as it expanded the merchandise into other markets in February.

“This gives us confidence that as warmer weather arrives in other parts of the country and spring selling continues to ramp up, we will see similar results,” she said.

Stein Mart’s stock price has been depressed as sales slumped last year, and Chief Financial Officer Gregory Kleffner said the company was notified by Nasdaq it could lose its listing because the price had been below $1 for 30 days.

Kleffner said Stein Mart can regain compliance with Nasdaq listing requirements if the stock trades above $1 for 10 consecutive trading days during the next six months.

“With our expected 2018 results, we feel good about being in compliance with Nasdaq listing rules during that time frame,” he said in the late Wednesday conference call.

Sure enough, Stein Mart’s stock jumped higher Thursday after the positive earnings outlook. The stock opened at $1.14 and continued climbing, closing the day at $1.29, 52 cents above Wednesday’s close.

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