What happened

Shares of L Brands (NYSE:BBWI), an apparel and personal care retailer best known for its Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works brands, jumped nearly 13% on Thursday morning despite the company's disappointing sales.

So what

Sales during the third quarter dropped 4% from the prior year, to $2.68 billion, lower than analysts' estimates calling for $2.69 billion. L Brands also lost a staggering $252 million, or $0.91 per share, but when adjusted for large one-time items, it earned $0.02 per share, which was in line with analysts' expectations.

A retail store with a full display of various soaps.

Image source: Getty Images.

L Brands' comparable sales were down 2% overall, but it was a night-and-day story between Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works. Victoria's Secret's third-quarter comparable sales were down 7%, while Bath & Body Works mostly offset those losses with a 9% gain. One aspect of the third-quarter report that investors could be optimistic about was fourth-quarter profit guidance of $2 per share, which was better than consensus estimates.

Now what

One of the biggest takeaways for investors reading about the third quarter and Thursday's pop in stock price is to look at a slightly bigger picture. Keep in mind that L Brands traded roughly 7% lower during Wednesday's trading session heading into the quarterly report, and after initially climbing almost 13% on Thursday morning, the stock has already settled back down for a more modest 5% gain. It's also down 35% year to date, 80% over the past five years, and faces plenty of headwinds with its brick-and-mortar stores as well as broader retail weakness -- it's not an easy environment to navigate.

Lastly, investors will also want to stay aware of speculation that activist pressure could be heating up for L Brands CEO Les Wexner, which could be another reason shares moved higher on Thursday. The pressure would likely be from two angles: one being his former ties with Jeffrey Epstein, and because Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works appear to be heading in opposite directions and could be more valuable to investors if separated.

This article represents the opinion of the writer, who may disagree with the “official” recommendation position of a Motley Fool premium advisory service. We’re motley! Questioning an investing thesis -- even one of our own -- helps us all think critically about investing and make decisions that help us become smarter, happier, and richer.