Gap closing 75 stores outside North America due to sales slump

NEW YORK — Gap Inc. said Thursday that it is shuttering 75 Old Navy and Banana Republic stores outside North America as the struggling company looks to focus on regions where it sees it has the greatest potential for success.

The closures include 53 Old Navy stores in Japan, Gap said.

The closures represent just a fraction of the over 3,700 stores it operates globally. But the San Francisco-based retailer says it should save it about $275 million a year before taxes.

Gap also indicated it might not meet its earlier profit forecast for the year, noting the clothing business would need to improve in order to achieve that goal.

The announcement came as Gap reported a 47 percent drop in first-quarter profits, with revenue falling nearly 6 percent. All three brands — Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic — suffered declines in a key sales measure.

Adding to the company’s woes, the Standard & Poor’s credit rating agency downgraded Gap’s debt to junk status Thursday. S&P said it cut the rating one notch “reflecting our view of the company’s weakened competitive position in the challenging apparel retail space.”

Gap has long been struggling, unable to get shoppers to buy its clothes without offering big discounts. CEO Art Peck, who came to the helm in February 2015, has been trying to overhaul the business. But Peck now sees he has to step up the pace after a promised turnaround this spring hasn’t come to fruition.

In fact, in April, it warned analysts that it had entered the month with more inventory than planned because of weaker-than-expected traffic starting in late March.

Even Old Navy, which had long been a bright spot in the company, has seen sales declines recently.

“As the pace of change across the apparel industry increases, now is the time to accelerate our transformation by scaling our product and operating capabilities across our global portfolio,” said Peck in a statement.

For the recent quarter, Gap said that net income was $127 million, or 32 cents per share. That compares with $239 million, or 56 cents per share, in the year-ago period. Revenue fell to $3.44 billion, from $3.66 billion in the year-ago period.

Analysts had expected 32 cents on revenue of $3.44 billion, according to FactSet. Gap had cut its first-quarter earnings guidance in early May.

Gap’s revenue at stores opened at least a year dropped 5 percent. By brand, the Gap brand saw sales fall 3 percent, while that figure was down 11 percent for Banana Republic. At Old Navy, the figure was down 6 percent.

Gap shares closed up 72 cents, or 4.2 percent, at $18.

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