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Sears Canada revenue falls 6.6% in first quarter

TORONTO — Sales declines in its key furniture, mattress and major appliance businesses led to a 6.6% drop in total revenue at Sears Canada in the fiscal first quarter, the retailer reported.

Revenue for the 13 weeks ended May 4 was C$867.1 million, down from C$928 in the comparable period in 2012. Same store sales decreased 2.6%.

The net loss for the quarter was C$31.2 million or 31 Canadian cents per share compared to net earnings of C$93.1 million or 91 cents per share for the same period last year.

Last year's first quarter, however, included a pretax gain of C$164.3 million earned after returning three prime downtown locations - in Vancouver, Calgary and Ottawa - to their landlords. All are expected to house the first Nordstrom stores to open in Canada later this year.

Excluding that one-time item, the net loss in the first quarter last year was C$44.9 million.

"We are encouraged to see significant improvements in areas that we have targeted with our transformation, particularly in the soft lines businesses," Calvin McDonald, Sears Canada's president and CEO, said in a statement.

He said Sears saw growth in its apparel and accessories and its bed and bath categories, but home goods and other hard lines sagged.

"Our major appliances business maintained market share but experienced sales declines, as did our furniture and mattress businesses, all of which suffered in a very tough quarter of trading because of unfavorable economic conditions and low consumer confidence," he said. He added that the unseasonably cool spring in most of Canada had a negative impact on several seasonal lines, including patio furniture.

However, MacDonald said the company's three-year transformation plan is making headway.

"We believe the growth in apparel and accessories is an indicator that we are on the right track," he said.

He added that management initiatives have improved gross margin by 50 basis points and reduced expenses 7.9%, and said that factoring out the gain from returning the leases last year, the bottom line improved.

In a related announcement, McDonald said E.J. Bird has been named executive vice president and chief financial officer on a permanent basis. He had been interim CFO since March. Bird will continue to serve as a member of the company's board of directors.

Sears Canada has also received approval from the Toronto Stock Exchange to buy back as much as 5% of its common stock over the coming year.

At the end of its fiscal first quarter, Sears Canada 181 corporate stores and 248 hometown dealer stores as well as more than 1,400 catalog and online merchandise pickup locations, 101 Sears Travel offices and a nationwide home maintenance, repair, and installation network. The company also publishes Canada's largest circulation general merchandise catalog and offers shopping online at www.sears.ca.

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