Business briefs

Spiegel gets extension to file; seeks to shut more stores

Bankrupt and embattled The Spiegel Group, parent of its namesake catalog and Eddie Bauer Stores, has been given additional time by a U.S. District Court in Chicago to file audited financial statements for fiscal 2002 and the first three quarters of fiscal 2003. The company now has until April 7 to file the financial results.

At the same time, the retailer, headquartered in Downers Grove, IL, said it has retained BDO Seidman LLP as its independent public accountant.

Separately, Spiegel has asked a U.S. Bankruptcy Court for permission to close 30 of its Eddie Bauer casual clothing stores, and to allow independent liquidators to hold going-out-of-business sales at the affected outlets. If the court gives it the green light, Spiegel will continue to operate the Eddie Bauer stores through the holiday season, and liquidators would later step in.

Of the 30 stores expected to close, 18 are facing lease expirations.

Because of ongoing real estate negotiations, Spiegel said it will not make public the list of stores to be shuttered until Dec. 30.

Since filing for bankruptcy protection in March, Spiegel has already closed 60 Eddie Bauer units.

Still sinking, Spiegel sales fell by 25 percent during November, the retailer reported, to $195.4 million from $260.3 million during the same five-week period a year ago. For the 48 weeks year-to-date, sales were off by 23 percent, to $1.5 billion.

Mortgage applications drop by 12 percent in November

In an unambiguously clear sign that the U.S. housing market may finally be cooling off after an long run-up, the weekly volume of mortgage applications fell to its lowest level in a year and a half during the week ended Dec. 5.

The Mortgage Bankers Association, Washington, D.C., said its seasonally adjusted yard-stick of demand fell by 12.2 percent from the prior week, to a reading of 601.6, the lowest reading since the 565.5 level for the week ended June 14, 2002.

With interest rates ticking up from their summer lows, the trade group said applications for refinancing also fell to an 18-month low.

With mortgage rates rising off their summer lows, applications for mortgages have fallen by more than 60 percent since their peak in May, the lending trade group reported.

Dividend News

J.C. Penney Co. Inc., Plano, TX, has declared a quarterly dividend of $0.125 per share on its outstanding common stock, payable Feb. 1, 2004, to shareholders of record as of January 9, 2004.

Bon-Ton Stores Inc., York, Pa, has declared a cash dividend of $0.025 per share on Class A common stock, payable Jan. 15, 2004, to shareholders of record as of Jan. 1, 2004. James H. Baireuther, vice chairman and chief administrative officer, commented, "As we indicated when we announced our dividends for each of the first and second quarters, our liquidity and strong balance sheet allow us to provide this avenue of return to our shareholders. Our directors will consider dividends in subsequent periods as it deems appropriate."

Hancock Fabrics Inc., Tupelo, MS, has declared a cash dividend of $0.10 per share of common stock payable Jan. 15 to shareholders of record as of Jan. 1.

Pier 1 Imports Inc., Fort Worth, TX, has declared a quarterly cash dividend of $0.08 per share of common stock payable Feb. 18 to shareholders of record as of Feb. 4.

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