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Another Tattered Quarter for Chico's

Chico's (NYSE: CHS  ) continues to struggle with its long-awaited turnaround. Its fourth-quarter results illustrate that its shareholders still have some waiting to do.

Unfortunately, there's no fourth-quarter profit for Chico's. The retailer swung to a net loss of $20.5 million, or $0.12 per share, compared to a profit of $18.2 million, or $0.10 per share, this time last year.

Net sales fell 7.9% to $409.3 million for the quarter. As previously disclosed, Chico's fourth-quarter same-store sales fell 15.7% for the quarter, with both the Chico's and White House/Black Market concepts posting similarly frumpy comps, down 16% and 17%, respectively. There's not much sign of improvement in the month of February, either, with comps down 14.9%. For even more shabby trends, fourth-quarter gross profit decreased by 19.2%, while SG&A expenses increased 11%.

Chico's may have beat analysts' expectations by $0.03, but given the litany of bad news, it's no surprise the stock fell. Chico's guided for negative same-store sales growth in the first half of 2008, as well as lower earnings; it expects a return to positive comps and increasing earnings in the second half of the year.

But of course, the macro environment seems like it could throw a major monkeywrench in turnaround hopes. CEO Scott Edmonds said in the company's release, "... While we attribute much of our underperformance to last year's merchandising issues, some of the corrective measures we have taken are being masked by the slowdown in retail overall and in the missy sector in particular. We further anticipate the women's sector will continue to face major challenges this spring."

As many of us have suspected, it sounds like a perfect storm. It's why I'd avoid many of the long-suffering retail turnarounds right now -- companies like Gap (NYSE: GPS  ) , Coldwater Creek (Nasdaq: CWTR  ) , Talbots (NYSE: TLB  ) , and of course, Chico's. After all, if it was tough when consumers weren't feeling pinched, how hard will it be when consumers are much more careful with their money? And of course, retailers that target older females also have their work cut out for them, since they're not as footloose and fancy-free with their money as younger women are.   

Chico's shares may look cheap to some investors -- but when can it get its growth jump-started again, especially amid the current tough environment for consumers? I'm concerned there's more risk then reward in Chico's for the time being.

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