JACKSONVILLE, FL-Stein Mart Inc. retail chain president Linda Farthing said during a conference call Thursday that her company had a very poor showing in the third quarter. The 276-store chain had a net loss of $2.7 million, or six cents per diluted share, compared to a net income of $237,000 in Q3 2006; and comparable store sales decreased 6.3% from the third quarter a year ago. Farthing said during the call

During the call, Farthing didn’t pull any punches. “We were unable to drive sales, resulting in our worst third quarter comp performance in recent history,” she said. She said that consumers, affected by the economy, warm temperatures and the housing slump, have slowed their clothing purchases.

It’s not going to get any easier, either, she said. The company will have deep discounts to get rid of excess inventory, to keep it off of next year’s balance sheets. Worse, the comp sales are projected lower in the fourth quarter. “Management expects a comparable stores sales decrease of approximately 10% for the current November month ending Dec. 1, and if this trend continues, comparable store sales would also decline approximately 10% for the fourth quarter,” the company said in its financial results statement Thursday.

Eight new stores opened in the third quarter, one store was relocated and two stores were closed. The company completed its 2007 store-opening program with four stores that opened in November, bringing the year’s total to 14 new stores. Two stores were closed during the year and two were relocated. “After careful review, we have decided to focus our efforts on the productive of the existing store network, and accordingly have scaled back our new store openings,” said Farthing. “While this is still a work in progress, we plan to open significantly fewer stores in 2008 than we opened in 2007.” She refused to be specific when analysts asked about new stores or store closing plans during the call.

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