Shares of Nordstrom dropped 8.7 percent Thursday after the Seattle retailer said it may not make its quarterly profit projections. Costco sales gained, but analysts say back-to-school shopping will be tough for retail.

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Shares of Nordstrom dropped 8.7 percent Thursday after the Seattle retailer said it may not make its quarterly profit projections.

The company made the announcement as other major retailers, particularly discounters, reported better-than-expected June sales results. Costco Wholesale, for instance, reported a strong 9 percent gain in same-store sales, surpassing Wall Street’s 8.2 percent estimate.

Nordstrom said it experienced higher levels of markdowns than in past years as it cleared spring merchandise during half-yearly sales in May and June.

“Due to lower gross profit margins, the company now expects that earnings for the current quarter will be at the low end or slightly below its previously announced earnings per share outlook of 65 to 70 cents,” the company said.

Investors hit the stock hard, pushing it down $2.72 to $28.52 — a 52-week closing low.

The company went on to say that its quarter-to-date results, which combine the results of May and June, provide the most accurate view of recent sales trends.

Preliminary quarter-to-date sales of $1.45 billion decreased 2.8 percent compared with sales of $1.49 billion during the same period in 2007. Quarter-to-date same-store sales, which are a key indicator of performance, decreased 5.9 percent.

Preliminary year-to-date sales of $3.33 billion decreased 3.4 percent compared with sales of $3.44 billion for the same period in 2007. Year-to-date same-store sales, decreased 6.2 percent.

The company’s popular annual anniversary sale starts July 18. As a result, July has historically been the second-largest sales month of the year and will be an important part of the quarter, the company said.

The company will release this month’s sales results Aug. 7 and second-quarter earnings results Aug. 14.

Nationally, retailers on Thursday reported a better-than-expected June gain of 4.3 percent, with discounter Wal-Mart accounting for the majority of the gain. Issaquah-based Costco was also among the best performers.

Sales generally remained sluggish at mall-based clothing stores, including Limited Brands and the Gap. The preliminary tally by UBS-International Council of Shopping Centers beat projections for a 2 to 3 percent gain, according to the council’s chief economist Michael Niemira.

However, excluding Wal-Mart’s robust gain, the sales tally was up 1.9 percent, though it was slightly better than the 1.1 percent average seen so far this fiscal year, which for retailers begins in February.

The results come on top of a better-than-expected 2.9 percent gain in May as the rebate checks began arriving. The tally is based on same-store sales, or sales at stores opened at least a year, and are considered a key indicator of a retailer’s health.

Ken Perkins, president of RetailMetrics, said the rebate checks provide only a “one-time bump.”

“The back-to-school season is going to be challenging,” he said.

Wal-Mart reported a robust 5.8 percent gain in same-store sales, saying economic-stimulus checks helped lift overall customer traffic. The results exclude fuel sales. Analysts polled by Thomson Financial expected an increase of 3.8 percent.

The world’s largest retailer noted strong gains in grocery, entertainment and health and wellness items and added that warmer weather helped sales in such categories as apparel and toys. It also cited strong sales of flat-panel TVs, underscoring the trend of people staying home more.

Target, which has not fared as well as Wal-Mart in recent months, reported a 0.4 percent gain in same-store sales. The results were better than the 0.5 percent decline that analysts had expected.

Costco’s 9 percent gain in same-store sales wasn’t enough for Wall Street, as its shares dropped $1.29, or 1.8 percent, to close at $70.86 a share Thursday.

Everett-based youth sportswear chain Zumiez reported late Wednesday that sales dropped 3.4 percent last month, when analysts were expecting about 1 percent. Thursday, Zumiez stock plunged $4.08 to $13.02, a nearly 24 percent decline.