We knew Saks wasn't doing well, but we didn't expect them to lose $99 million in the fourth quarter. That brings the net losses for the year to $154.9 million. So most of the losses occurred over the holiday season when Saks aggressively marked down merchandise to get people to shop. The 70 percent off sales angered designers, including CFDA president Diane Von Furstenberg, who had no say in the markdowns and had to figure out how to get customers to pay full price for goods in freestanding stores when they were getting things at Saks practically for free. Saks chairman Stephen I. Sadove finally addressed rumors that the chain is nearing bankruptcy:
“Although it is policy not to comment on bankruptcy rumors, all of the actions [Saks is taking] are ensuring we are free cash flow positive in 2009. Bankruptcy would destroy shareholder value. Our intent is to insure and enhance shareholder value.”
So they intend not to go bankrupt. Who knew? Sadove also addressed the obscene 70 percent off sales. He said they had no choice because they had to reduce inventory, and they feel good about the results. WWD reports:
“In hindsight, I think we had to be more promotional,” Sadove said. “We bought these products nine months in advance when we were growing double digits. We didn’t jump the competition. We made the decision we would follow, but we would be much more aggressive once we followed.”
He added that he thought they could have "gotten away with" marking shoes and handbags 55 to 60 percent off instead of 70. Saks also contends that relationships with designers remain good, and now that inventories are down, Saks doesn't expect to have to discount as deeply in the coming year.
Although they lost $99 million in the fourth quarter and laid off 1,100 employees, Saks is working on opening an upscale men's store in Palm Beach (to replace an old one) and spending "tens of millions" of dollars to renovate the third floor of the Fifth Avenue flagship. This is meant to, as WWD puts it, "underscore its continuing stake in luxury." Tens of millions on one floor of one store. And they're $155 million in the hole.