Executive Business Briefing

June 6, 2002 at 9:22 AM
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Here is a look at more of Thursday's top business stories:

Bank of England leaves rates unchanged

LONDON, June 6 (UPI) -- The Bank of England left its repurchase rate unchanged at 4.0 percent, as widely expected, following its two-day monthly monetary policy committee meeting.

The meeting is to the day the fifth anniversary of the MPC's first decision. Then, June 6, 1997, the MPC unanimously voted to raise rates by 25 basis points to 6.25 percent.

Thursday, the bank announced its decision without comment, noting only that the minutes of the meeting will be published on June 19.

Thursday's decision to leave rates unchanged was taken by an eight-member MPC, with Governor Eddie George holding the casting vote because of the absence of Marian Bell, who replaces Sushil Wadhwani as independent MPC member. Bell's first MPC meeting will be in July.

The meeting is the first for Paul Tucker, who replaces Ian Plenderleith as bank member on the MPC.

Sales decline 5.1 percent at J.C. Penney

PLANO, Texas, June 6 (UPI) -- J.C. Penney Co. Inc. said sales at its department stores open at least a year, or same store sales, fell 5.1 percent in May.

The company also said it still expects earnings, before unusual items, of 90 cents to $1 a share for the full year 2002.

Company-wide total sales for the four week selling period ended May 25 rose 1 percent to $2.27 billion.

Same store sales at Penney's Eckerd drugstores rose 6.7 percent, while total sales were up 7.1 percent to $1.14 billion.

Total department store sales fell 5.7 percent in May to $946 million, and catalog sales fell 19.1 percent to $178 million.

J.C. Penney operates 1,074 department stores in all 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Mexico and 2,643 Eckerd drugstores throughout the Southeast, Sunbelt, and Northeast regions of the country.

Same store sales decline 4.4 percent at Sears

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill., June 6 (UPI) -- Sears, Roebuck and Co. said sales at its domestic stores open at least a year, or same store sales, fell 4.4 percent in May.

Sears said its total domestic store revenue for the four week selling period ended June 1 declined 1.5 percent to $2.25 billion from $2.29 billion during the same period last year.

Alan J. Lacy, chairman and chief executive officer, said, "We remain pleased with our profit improvements and inventory position despite the revenue decline."

The company said dealer and Sears hardware store formats performed well in the month of May with high- and mid-single digit sales increases, respectively.

Full-line store results were negatively affected by the unseasonably cool weather and experienced a mid-single digit decline for the month.

Sears currently operates approximately 870 full-line stores.

First Data to buy E Commerce Group

DENVER, June 6 (UPI) -- First Data Corp., a provider of electronic commerce and payment services, said it has signed a definitive agreement to acquire E Commerce Group Inc., an electronic bill payment and presentment company based in New York.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The deal is subject to regulatory approval and other closing conditions.

First Data said ECG will operate as a part of First Data's Western Union unit and will continue to operate under its current management team.

Joe Jackson, president, Western Union Commercial Services, said, "Western Union has long been a leader in providing consumers and businesses with a wide variety of electronic payment solutions. To meet the growing needs of our clients, we are always looking to enhance our current offerings and add new complementary products and services.

"The addition of ECG's flagship product Speedpay, to our product portfolio will give our clients yet another means to quickly and conveniently receive electronic payments," he said.

ECG developed and markets Speedpay, a proprietary technology that allows companies to receive electronic bill payments through multiple sources including call centers, automated voice response units, and the Internet.

Sales decline at Talbots

HINGHAM, Mass., June 6 (UPI) -- Apparel retailer Talbots Inc. said sales at stores open at least a year fell 3 percent in May.

Talbots, which sells women's, plus-size, and children's apparel, said total sales for the four week selling period ended June 1 improved 1 percent to $114.1 million from $113.5 million during the same period last year.

Arnold B. Zetcher, chairman, president and chief executive officer, said, "We are very pleased with our May comparable store sales results, which were significantly better than expected.

"As part of our spring marketing initiatives, we anniversaried a best customer event in the month, which proved to be very successful in driving healthy store traffic. During the period, virtually all of our merchandise was at regular price, and our customer continued to respond positively to our casual spring and summer assortments," he said.

Looking ahead, Zetcher said, "While May was much stronger than expected, the important volume months of June and July, including our semi-annual sale, are still ahead of us.

"Therefore, at this time we are reconfirming our earlier guidance for earnings per share growth in the second quarter and remain comfortable with the current First Call consensus estimate of 29 cents per diluted share," Zetcher added.

Talbots currently operates 839 stores.

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