April Retail Sales Muted but Still Respectable

As April retail sales results began spilling in today, many reported weaker-than-expected performances on same-store sales, often showing only modest growth after a strong March.

The mixed results were no surprise to many Wall Street retail analysts who said March sales were inflated by an early Easter, better than seasonal weather and consumers spending due to “frugal fatigue.”

“Consumers took a breather in April,” says Ken Perkins, president at Retail Metrics, a research company. “But overall, retailers have to be pleased with the spring selling season.”

According to the International Council of Shopping Center Index of 30 retailers, the key measure increased 0.8% compared with a 2.7% decline last year. That follows a 9% gain in March, the strongest increase since March 1999. Combining March and April, the index rose 4.9%, higher than the average pace of 4.1% since January.

“The real takeaway is that profitability continued to improve on the healthy underlying demand,” says Michael Neimira, chief economist at ICSC.

Indeed some majors such as Macy’s, Target Corp. Gap and JC Penney recently upped their earnings outlook as consumers began buying at regular prices again.

While the U.S. Labor Department said unemployment applications dropped for a third week in a row and consumer confidence rose somewhat, consumers may remain cautious on spending until unemployment rates subside more, analysts say.

Among the retailers reporting April figures are:

Nordstrom Inc same-store sales rose 7.5% in the month to May 1. Total retail sales jumped 13.3% to $636 million, up from $561 million last time.

•Sales were also up at Ross Stores Inc, which posted a 7% rise to $570 million from $534 million a year ago. Comparable store sales grew 3%. The Easter calendar shift and unseasonably cool and wet weather hurt results, the company said.

•April sales at The Bon-Ton Inc were on plan, the department store retailer said, with total sales dropping 5.2% to $189.1 million, down from $199.4 million last time. Comparable store sales fell 5.0%. Moderate missy and petite sportswear, intimate apparel and footwear were among its best performing businesses.

•Total and comparable store sales at Dillard’s dropped 5%, the retailer said, with both impacted by the Easter calendar shift. Merchandise sales were down to $406.3 million from $429.3 million a year ago. The sales performance in the juniors’ and children’s apparel category were singled out as “significantly below trend.”

Macy’s Inc saw its total sales rise 2.8% to $1.74 billion for the four-week period, up from $1.691 billion a year ago. On a same-store basis, sales were up 1.1%. Bloomingdale’s and all eight Macy’s regions were “at or above expectations for sales in April,” the company said.

Neiman Marcus Inc.’s fiscal third quarter same-store sales increased 9% in the period ended May 1. Total third quarter sales increased 10.5% to $895 million. The store said all divisions had higher sales for the quarter with Bergdorf Goodman posting the biggest–25.4% in same-store sales, an indication that New York City’s most affluent have returned to spending.

•The TJX Companies Inc also saw revenue gains in April, with sales up 10% to $1.6 billion from $5.0 billion a year earlier. Comparable store sales were at the high end of expectations, increasing by 4%. The off-price retailer said unseasonably cool and wet weather in several regions dampened demand for spring apparel in the second half of April.

JC Penney reported that its comparable store sales fell 3.3% for the four weeks ended May 1, while total sales were down 3.7%. Sales reflected a shift of pre-Easter selling into the March period. Women’s accessories, shoes and handbags, and men’s were the top performing merchandise divisions.

• At Saks Incorporated, owned sales rose 3.4% in April to $246.9 million, up from $238.7 million in the same month last year. Comparable store sales were up 3.2%. The strongest categories at Saks Fifth Avenue stores included women’s apparel, shoes and men’s clothing.

•The timing of Easter contributed to a 5% drop in total sales at Kohl’s. On a comparable store basis, sales fell 7.7%. The company, which operates 1,067 stores, said footwear, women’s and men’s achieved the strongest comparable store sales performance during the month.

Target Corporation reported that its net retail sales were down 3.5% to $4.29 billion, falling from $4.45 billion a year ago. April comparable-store sales fell 5.9%, with strong demand in higher margin categories, the retailer said.

Stage Stores Inc said its total sales fell 5.8% to $101 million from $108 million last time. Comparable store sales were down 8.3%. The company operates 774 stores under the Bealls, Goody’s, Palais Royal, Peebles and Stage names

Limited Brands, operator of Victoria’s Secret, Pink and La Senza, reported a comparable store sales increase of 4% in April. The company reported net sales of $584.6 million compared with last year’s $531.2 million.

Stein Mart said the early Easter shifted pre-holiday selling into March, which meant its total April sales were down 7.4% to $92.9 million, from $100.3 million a year ago. Same-stores sales fell 5.4%. Ladies’ dresses and men’s sportswear saw positive comparable store sales, the retailer said.

Abercrombie & Fitch posted an 8% rise in net sales to $214.3 million, up from $199.1 million last year. But comparable store sales fell 7%. Same-store sales were down 7% at both Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister Co, and fell 5% at Abercrombie kids. Direct-to-consumer sales increased 50% to $23.1 million and international sale jumped 94% to $40.0 million.

Gap Inc posted a 3% drop in April same-store sales, as revenues fell across all its brands and international unit. By division, April comparable store sales fell 6% at Gap, were down 2% at Banana Republic, and fell 1% at Old Navy North America. International sales were 5% lower than last year. Net sales for the four weeks to May 1 were flat at $1.05 billion.

American Eagle Outfitters Inc, total sales slipped 1% to $192 million from $194 million. Same-store sales decreased 6% for the month, compared to a drop of 5% a year earlier.

Aeropostale Inc, which sells casual and active apparel for young women and men, reported a 0.4% slip in total sales for the month to 1 May to $137.2 million. Same store sales were down 5%. The Easter calendar shift was to blame, the company said, adding that its merchandise margins for the month were significantly higher than last year.

The Cato Corp., operator of the Cato and It’s Fashion stores, saw its sales slip 7% to $74.1 million in April, down from $79.4 million in the same month last year. Comparable store sales also dropped 7%. The shift of Easter sales to March hit revenues, the company said, but added: “April sales were above our expectations.”

Urban Outfitters, Inc. sales for the first quarter rose to $480 million, a 25% increase from the comparable quarter in the prior year. Comparable retail segment sales, which include our direct-to-consumer channel, rose 16% for the quarter while comparable store sales increased 11% for the quarter.

•Net sales at maternity apparel retailer Destination Maternity  were “weaker than planned” in the month of April, dropping 2.2% to $48.8 million, down from $49.9 million a year ago. A 6.3% drop in same-store sales was partially offset by increased leased department sales due to the re-launch of the Two Hearts Maternity collection in Sears and Kmart.

The Buckle Inc posted a 1.1% drop in net sales for the four-weeks to May 1, falling to $58.4 million from $59.1 million a year earlier. Comparable store sales fell 5.7%.

The Wet Seal Inc, which sells fashion for young women, blamed the early Easter holiday and softer than expected sales at both Wet Seal and Arden B in the remainder of the month, for its 6.1% drop in same-store sales. Total revenues fell 4.7% to $39.0 million.

Dress Barn increased its third quarter and full-year earnings guidance today after posting a 77% surge in third quarter sales to $666 million. The impressive sales performance was due primarily to revenue from the recently acquired Justice brand, which contributed $245.6 million of the $290.3 million total growth.

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