Vera Bradley shares climb on firming growth prospects

Vera Bradley, Inc. was founded in 1982 and became a publicly traded company on Oct. 21, 2010. (Photo credit: Jaclyn Schuler)

By Kaitlin Schuler

Vera Bradley Inc. shares jumped Wednesday after the handbag and accessories retailer offered an upbeat forecast in its fourth quarter report.

In the latest quarter, the Fort Wayne, Indiana-based company posted net income of $15.7 million or 41 cents per diluted share, down 9.4 percent from $17.3 million or 43 cents per share in the year ago quarter. The earnings matched the forecast of analysts surveyed by Zacks Investment Research.

Earnings slumped even despite a modest 1 percent increase in revenues to $154.1 million from $152.6 million a year ago.
Vera Bradley and other companies in the industry have been struggling over the past several quarters with changing consumer tastes, and a resulting slowdown in growth. In response, the company has devoted part of its efforts to modernizing its marketing and introducing new fabrics and products, including fragrances and jewelry.

“Our top priority continues to be to make Vera Bradley more relevant in order to attract even more new customers to the brand,” said Chief Executive Officer Robert Wallstrom. “We are continuing to execute our long-term strategic plan laid out in March 2014, focusing on the key planks of product, distribution, and marketing.”

The results drew an enthusiastic reception from investors: In mid-day Nasdaq trading, Vera Bradley shares were up $1.65, or 9.4 percent, at $19.21. “We continue to view Vera as one of the most compelling turnaround stories in our universe,” said Wunderlich Securities, Inc. analyst Eric Beder in an online note, “and believe management has done a sterling job of reviving and bringing life to a tired brand.”

The company opened 15 full-line stores and 11 factory stores this year and nearly doubled its presence at Macy’s, Inc. Along with Vera Bradley-specific stores, the company sells its products at more than 3,000 independent retailers nationwide and a few international locations, according to its website.

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The company repurchased around $4.1 million of its common stock, or about 300,000 shares at an average $14.64 per share, during the fourth quarter; Vera Bradley’s per-share results were helped by a by 5.7 percent decline in shares outstanding compared to the year-ago quarter.

“We realize it will take more time and effort to return the business to solid growth,” Wallstrom said, “but we are excited about our refined brand positioning and energized about the future.”

Vera Bradley officials said Wednesday that the company now expects diluted per-share earnings for the current first quarter to land between 4 cents and 6 cents; analysts currently predict a mid-range EPS of 3 cents.

“Our three main objectives for fiscal 2017 are to complete our brand transformation, drive core growth, and to begin to explore additional licensing and international growth opportunities,” Wallstrom finished. “We believe we are positioned to begin generating positive comparable growth in the second half of this fiscal year.”

Net income for the full 2016 year decreased 28 percent to $27.6 million or 71 cents per diluted share from $38.4 million or 95 cents per share.

Revenues decreased to $502.6 million from $509.0 million the previous year.

Photo at top: Vera Bradley, Inc. was founded in 1982 and became a publicly traded company on Oct. 21, 2010. (Jaclyn Schuler)