Jones Group warns shoppers may balk at higher prices

Feb 9 - Jones Group Inc reported higher holiday quarter revenue, but said rising cotton costs had hit its profit margins and would persist, warning that customers could balk at higher prices in 2011.

Jones

The company, whose brands include Nine West, Jones New York and Anne Klein, said revenue rose 12.5 percent to $873.7 million, coming in slightly ahead of the $869.7 million Wall Street analysts were expecting, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.

Jones itself had forecast they would rise between 12 percent and 15 percent.

Despite rising sales in each of its business segments, Jones reported a loss of $40 million, or 47 cents per share, for the quarter that ended Dec. 31, as higher cotton costs and a greater than anticipated need to offer shoppers bargains to entice them to buy, ate into results.

Jones Chief Executive Wesley Card said in a statement that pressure from higher cotton costs would persist this year, adding that consumer reaction to higher price tags would be a "challenge."

Card also said Jones would protect profits through "selective price increases."

Jones also said the market was soft for its excess merchandise sold at off-price chains such as TJX Cos Inc's T.J. Maxx chain, noting Jones will be more "conservative" in 2011 in terms of buying merchandise and maintaining appropriate inventory levels.

Jones said income excluding certain one-time items was 4 cents per share during the quarter that ended Dec. 31, confirming a preliminary result reported last month that disappointed Wall Street.

Gross margins fell 3.5 percentage points to 30.8 percent.

Jones closed 44 stores during the quarter and finished the year with 803 locations.

Jones' shares have fallen 46.9 percent to Tuesday's closing price of $13.08 since hitting a 52-week high last April. They hit a yearly low on Jan. 21.

(Reporting by Phil Wahba, editing by Maureen Bavdek)

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