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The teen apparel merchant said late Wednesday that Executive Chairman Jay L. Schottenstein, who was chief executive from March 1992 to December 2002, will temporarily fill the post. The company said it would start looking for a permanent replacement.
Executive Creative Director Roger S. Markfield, who is also vice chairman, agreed to delay his planned retirement and continue in his roles, according to American Eagle.
The retailer also reaffirmed its forecast for its fourth quarter.
Investors reacted negatively, sending the company's stock down nearly 8%, or $1.12, to $13.19 a share. On Wednesday, before the announcement, American Eagle shares fell 31 cents, or 2.1%, to $14.31.
The company did not specify why Hanson, who came on board in January 2012, was departing.
Analysts said they were surprised by the shake-up.
"He had been implementing meaningful and positive changes to the business," said Howard Tubin of RBC Capital Markets. "We are a fan of Mr. Hanson, and he was, generally speaking, liked by Wall Street."
Tubin wrote in a note to clients that American Eagle had a strong 2012 but that "business took a turn for the worse" last year, putting it "in the same boat as most other youth-oriented retailers."
But Tubin said he suspected that the company's board may have blamed Hanson for the retailer's struggles or perhaps was displeased with the brand's creative direction.