(Adds analysts, background)
By Ole Petter Skonnord
OSLO, Dec 19 (Reuters) - Shares of XXL, the Nordic region’s largest sports retailer, fell more than 40 percent in early trade on Wednesday after warning of weaker profits, making it the latest victim of a downturn among European store owners.
XXL also announced the departure of Chief Executive Ulf Bjerknes after less than two months in the job, while the company’s founder and Chairman Oeivind Tidemandsen will take charge of day-to-day operations and strategy.
“XXL has been too aggressive with price discounts and not adjusted and followed up price strategies sufficiently,” it said after the close of trade on the Oslo Bourse on Tuesday.
“Unfortunately this lasted too long without corrective actions, hampering the gross margins into December as well,” it added in its statement.
Established in Norway in 2001 with the aim of offering a broader product range and lower prices than competitors, XXL has since opened stores in Sweden, Finland and Denmark, as well as Austria. It also sells products online.
The company’s profit warning pointed to fourth-quarter earnings before interest, tax, depreciation and amortisation of between 105 million and 135 million Norwegian crowns ($12.1 million-$15.5 million), missing market forecasts by some 60 percent, brokers DNB Markets said in a note to clients.
Shares of European retailers have been under pressure recently after warnings of poor performance by the likes of ASOS and Sports Direct, among others.
In its warning, XXL said a consortium of lenders had agreed to alter covenants linked to its debt, waiving previous terms.
Handelsbanken Capital Markets analyst Magnus Raman, who holds a sell recommendation on the XXL stock, said the magnitude of the company’s warning came as a surprise.
“However, some of the underlying factors have been present for a time ... we have questioned how viable it is for a market leader to maintain price leadership versus all competitors in all categories at all times,” he said.
XXL’s shares traded 41 percent lower at 0946 GMT at 22.70 Norwegian crowns ($2.58) and are down 77 percent from a January peak. ($1 = 8.7001 Norwegian crowns) (Writing by Terje Solsvik Editing by Edmund Blair)