Staples sales miss Street as Europe, North America pinch

BOSTON, Wed Mar 6, 2013 — Staples Inc., the largest U.S. office supply chain, reported lower-than-expected quarterly revenue and forecast weak full-year earnings as corporate customers and other shoppers in Europe and North America reduced discretionary spending.

Many investors look at office-supply retailers as a barometer of economic health because demand for their products is closely tied to white-collar employment rates.

As customers increasingly buy office supplies online or at mass merchants, these chains are fighting a battle for relevance. Analysts have called for consolidation as sales crumbled after the recent U.S. recession.

Office Depot Inc. and OfficeMax Inc. last month decided to combine in a $976 million all-stock deal. The deal is subject to investor and regulatory approval.

Comparable-store sales at Staples’ North American stores fell 5 percent in the fourth quarter, while in Europe it decreased 9 percent, mainly due to fewer customers visiting its stores, the company said.

Staples outlined a plan last year to cut costs by closing stores, but that blueprint did not pass muster with some on Wall Street who were looking for deeper cuts in North America and Europe.

Overall, sales rose 3 percent to $6.56 billion, but missed Wall Street’s average expectation of $6.72 billion, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.