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Limited Brands May Dispose Of Limited Stores Division

Limited Stores' days could be just what the name says "limited." The apparel phenomenon that launched in 1963 and became the epitome of women's specialty retailing in the 1980s hasn't generated an operating profit since 1993 and has piled up losses totaling more than $400 million since. Now, pundits are speculating that the Limited Brands division, which now includes only 347 stores, could sell to a strategic or financial buyer for $100-280 million.

The rumors were fanned at Limited Brands' analyst day conference in Columbus, Ohio, yesterday, where the company's management team presented its plans for 2004 growth to Wall Street. During the entire day's worth of store tours and meetings, not a word was mentioned about Limited Stores. "We question where the brand fits into the company's youthful 18-35-year-old focus," says JP Morgan analyst Brian Tunick.

The company did present big plans for its other divisions, including expansions and renovations of Victoria's Secret, Bath & Body Works and the dual-gender-format Express stores in the top 160 U.S. regional malls. Dana Telsey, analyst for Bear Stearns, estimates Limited Brands will spend as much as $440 million annually in coming years to re-invigorate these brands. The company also has a $4.2 billion cash war chest for possible acquisitions. Analysts say any acquisitions will likely be of smaller, personal-care lines and retailers as Limited Brands continues an on-going shift away from the volatile and cyclical apparel category towards the more profitable intimate apparel and beauty product categories.

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