(Adds details from conference call)
By Phil Wahba
Aug 21 (Reuters) - American Eagle Outfitters Inc, the teen apparel retailer, forecast weak sales and profits for the back-to-school quarter on Wednesday, and said the promotional environment that forced it to slash prices this summer was persisting.
Shares fell as low as $14.40, their lowest since March 2012. They were down 9 percent at $14.87 in late-morning trading.
American Eagle Chief Executive Robert Hanson told analysts on a conference call the level of promotions has been "unprecedented."
The company said fewer shoppers have been visiting its stores.
"What is most disconcerting is that the discounting is really aggressive," said Morningstar analyst Jaime Katz. "As back to school goes, so goes the holiday. This means we'll probably see the same price competition out there in the fourth quarter."
American Eagle said gross profit margin fell 3.6 percentage points to 33.8 percent of sales in the fiscal second quarter ended Aug. 3, because of the discounting. Its margin has historically been closer to 40 percent.
The company, which competes with Abercrombie & Fitch Co and Aeropostale Inc, said comparable sales, including online sales and sales at stores open at least a year, will fall in the mid-to-high single digits in percentage terms in the current quarter, continuing a sharp decline.
American Eagle projected a third-quarter profit that was less than half of what analysts expected. It forecast 14 cents to 16 cents a share, while analysts looked for 35 cents, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S.
The company, which had reported that same-store sales fell 7 percent in the second quarter, posted net income of $19.6 million, or 10 cents a share, for the period, up from $19.0 million, or 9 cents a share, a year earlier.
The earnings were in line with a warning it gave two weeks ago. At the time, the analysts' average target was 21 cents a share.
The retailer pointed to two bright spots: growth in online sales, which it sees reaching $425 million next year, nearly double the 2011 numbers, and its factory outlet store chain, which it is expanding. (Reporting by Phil Wahba in New York; Editing by Gerald E. McCormick, John Wallace and Jeffrey Benkoe)