The nation's biggest retailers struggled with mixed sales last month as unusually cold weather kept shoppers indoors in many parts of the...
NEW YORK — The nation’s biggest retailers struggled with mixed sales last month as unusually cold weather kept shoppers indoors in many parts of the country, but analysts said the industry’s recent upbeat trend nonetheless appeared intact.
As retailers reported sales yesterday, heavyweights Wal-Mart and Limited Brands had results that missed Wall Street forecasts. And moderately priced J.C. Penney said its sales barely rose, while discount-department-store operator Kohl’s had an unexpected drop in business.
Even some upscale retailers like Neiman Marcus were hurt by the weather.
Discounters such as Costco Wholesale fared well as consumers shopped for bargains. Costco’s same-store sales climbed 7 percent last month.
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On the other end of the price spectrum, luxury retailers such as upscale department store Nordstrom posted solid sales as its March same-store sales rose 5.5 percent.
But youth-oriented apparel sellers including Abercrombie & Fitch and Bebe were big winners, posting sharply better than expected results.
“The primary trend is the teen retailers have again blown out their numbers,” said Ken Perkins, president of RetailMetrics, in Boston.
Abercrombie & Fitch said its sales jumped 21 percent, blowing past estimates of a 12.6 percent gain, while total sales for the month surged 34 percent.
Bebe said its same-store sales climbed 30.6 percent, beating analysts’ estimate for a 25.9 percent rise. Its total sales surged 42.4 percent.
Nordstrom’s 5.5 percent rise beat an estimated 4.1 percent gain, while its total sales rose 6.7 percent. Federated Department Stores, which operates Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s, said its same-store and total sales rose 3.4 percent, beating a projected 2.4 percent rise.
Wal-Mart said its same-store sales rose 4.3 percent last month, shy of the 4.4 percent predicted by analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call. Total sales for the month rose 11.3 percent.
Target said its March same-store sales surged 8.2 percent, above estimates, and said it expects to meet or beat its first-quarter earnings estimate. Total sales rose 14.3 percent.
Still, the high-end sector had its share of disappointments. Both Neiman Marcus and Saks reported higher sales, but the gains fell short of forecasts. Neiman Marcus had a 3.4 percent same-store gain, and a 2.2 percent rise overall, while Saks had a 1.1 percent same-store increase and a 2.3 percent rise in total sales.
Analysts said that taken together, last month’s results showed that Americans’ willingness to spend remains robust despite per-barrel oil prices in the $50 range and the threat of rising interest rates, though last month showed signs of a drop-off after strong sales recorded in January and February.
“March sales were very mixed and there’s some evidence of some slowing down, but it has to do more with weather rather than the economy,” said Michael Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers in New York.
“Will consumer spending retrench as the economy wrestles with broader concerns like higher gas prices? The worry is there, but looking at these numbers, it doesn’t appear to be a major negative for sales. Consumers continue to spend,” Niemira said.
Based on preliminary results, the International Council of Shopping Centers-UBS sales tally of 67 retailers rose 4.1 percent last month, roughly in the middle of a projected gain of 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent. In February, the tally rose 4.7 percent.
The tally is based on what the industry calls same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least one year. Analysts consider same-store sales the best indicator of a retailer’s performance.