Wall Street Calls July Retail Sales “Tepid”

New York–While July sales reported by 30 retailers today were up 3% overall, they fell short of the 3.2% increase market analysts had hope for. About 60% of them, including several department and teen stores, missed expectations for the fourth straight month.

The heat wave that hit most of the country in July may have contributed somewhat to a wilted retail picture, as did increased discounting which some stores used to lure in shoppers. The International Council of Shopping Center’s retail tally, based upon 31 retailers, found that same-store sales rose 2.8% in July, when it had been expecting sales to increase 3 to 4%.

‘Pockets of Strength’

And while there are “pockets of strength” in some retail channels, retail analysts are hoping that back to school business, the second largest retail season after Christmas, would help sales rebound further. Retailers that did come out ahead for the month did so mostly by taking consumers away from their competitors rather than an increase in overall spending.
“It’s a zero-sum game,” said KeyBanc Capital Markets analyst Ed Yruma. “The retailers that focused on price did better on a relative basis.”

Market analysts study sales at stores open at least a year, known as same-store sales and are considered an important barometer of a retailer’s health because it excludes the effect of store openings and closings. (Walmart Stores Inc. doesn’t report sales on a monthly basis.)

Retailers, such as Macy’s Inc., Nordstrom, Limited Inc. and Abercrombie & Fitch Inc. managed to exceed expectations, while JCPenney and teen retailers like Aéropostale, The Buckle, The Wet Seal and Hot Topic widely missed the mark and provided discouraging earnings forecasts.  Even Aéropostale, which had been performing best in the teen sector, posted only a 1% increase,well below the 7.1% rise that Wall Street had expected.

“Some very clear lines are being drawn,” said Brian Sozzi, retail analyst at Wall Street Strategies. “If you were a teen apparel retailer, promotions absolutely hurt comps and second-quarter earnings in certain cases. But in the overall picture, there are pockets of strength.”

Other figures this week also call into question how successful back to school business may be. Hoping to stave off the effects of two lackluster back to school years in a row, many retailers have stepped up their marketing efforts, rolling out discounts, new celebrity-based collections and using to social media to reach younger shoppers.

Nonetheless, U.S. consumer sentiment hit its lowest level in nine months in July, according to Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan’s Surveys of Consumers. On Thursday, the government reported that new U.S. claims for unemployment benefits unexpectedly rose in the latest week. 

A Tougher Fall Ahead?

It does not get easier for retailers. After July, they face their toughest comparisons of the year, with August 2009’s same-store sales having shown a small drop and the group reporting monthly gains for the rest of last year.

MasterCard Advisors’ SpendingPulse, a macro-economic report tracking national retail and service sales, reported Wednesday that U.S. retail sales for July were mostly flat in contrast to the sharper growth of first quarter and the more moderate growth shown in the second quarter.

Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis for SpendingPulse, compared the results to June’s, saying retail sales “continued to tread water” as consumers held back on large ticket purchases, often trading down.

Many retailers also have cautioned that they don’t expect second half sales increases to be as strong. Not to mention, that after July, many retailers face their toughest comparisons of the year with August 2009’s same-store sales having shown a small drop and most had monthly gains for the rest of last year.

“We don’t see consumers opening their wallets in any more than a tepid way,” said John Long, retail strategist at Kurt Salmon Associates. “There has not been positive movement by key economic gauges.”

Among the stores reporting quarterly figures today were:

•Macy’s reported total sales of $1.528 billion for the four weeks ended July 31, an increase of 11% compared with July 2009. On a same-store basis, Macy’s sales were up 7.3% in July.

•Dillard’s said net sales in July were $425 million compared to sales for the four weeks last year of $439 million. Sales decreased 3% on a same-store basis.

•Saks Inc. reported that owned sales totaled $167.9 million for the four weeks ended July 31, compared to $160.2 million in the same month last year, a 4.8% increase. Same-store sales increased 6.4% for the month.

•JCPenney’s same-store sales decreased 0.6% for the four-week period ended July 31. The Plano,TX-based retailer said it sold clearance inventory generally at “sharper price points,” or more deeply marked down than a year ago. The retailer added that customers are “continuing their pattern of shopping closer to their needs.” JCPenney now sees its second-quarter earnings at the lower end of its initial per-share estimated range of 5 cents to 8 cents.

•Kohl’s reported that total sales for the month increased 7.1% over the same period last year. On a same-store basis, July sales increased 4.1%.

•The Bon-Ton announced same-store sales for July down 0.3%. Total sales for the four weeks decreased 0.6% to $177.6 million

•Neiman Marcus said its total revenue rose 13.6% to $226 million during July, while same-store sales increased 12.3%.

Nordstrom said its July sales at stores open at least one year rose 7.6%. Total sales grew 10.5% to $890 million. In August, the department-store retailer plans to open one full-line store in Santa Monica, Calif. and two Rack outlet stores in Virginia.

•Stage Stores saw total sales for July increase 2.4% to $100 million, from $97 million in the prior year period. Same-store sales decreased 0.6%.

•Limited Brands reported a same-store sales increase of 12% for the month. The company posted net sales of $619.7 million for the four weeks ended July 31, compared to net sales of $556.2 million last year. The company, which operates Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, also raised per-share earnings expectations to between 34 cents and 36 cents, after initially projecting a range of 27 cents to 32 cents.

•Target Corp. posted a same-store sales gain of 2%, below expectations for a 2.3% gain. The low-priced merchant cited weakness in electronics, video games, music and movies. Net retail sales were $4.59 billion for July, up 3.8% from $4.42 billion reported in the comparable period of last year. However, net retail sales dropped sequentially from $5.92 billion reported in June.

•Gap Inc reported a net sales increase of 3% to $948 million for the four-week period. The company’s same-store sales for July were up 1% compared with an 8% decrease in July 2009. While the specialty retailer beat expectations it offered a second-quarter earnings estimate that was below analysts’ expectations, suggesting that promotions cut into the bottom line.

•Hot Topic announced sales of $48.4 million for the month of July, down 7.4% on the same month last year. Same-store sales declined 9.0% during the period. The retailer also widened its loss estimate for the second quarter to 14 cents a share, after initially projecting a per-share loss of 7 cents to 10 cents.

•Abercrombie & Fitch reported net sales of $270.9 million for the four-week period, a 17% increase from net sales of $232.3 million for the four-week period last year. July same-store sales increased 7% when a 4.1% increase was expected as merchandise was widely marked down.

•Aeropostale said total net sales for the four-week period ended July 31 increased 6% to $166.7 million. The retailer’s same-store sales increased 1% for the month.

•American Eagle Outfitters announced that total sales for July increased 2% to $219 million. Same-store sales were flat for the month, compared to an 11% decrease for the same period last year.

•The Wet Seal reported net sales of $41.1 million during July, down 3.9% on the prior year period. Same-store sales fell 4.3%.

•The Buckle announced that its same-store sales fell 9.3% in July. Net sales for the four-week fiscal month ended July 31 decreased 3.9% to $59.1 million.

•Hot Topic announced sales of $48.4 million for the month of July, down 7.4% on the same month last year. Same-store sales declined 9.0% during the period.

Zumiez Inc. topped analysts’ projections for the seventh time in eight months, with same-store sales rising 9.4% when an 8.5% increase was expected.

•The TJX Companies said that its sales for the four-week period ended 31 July were $1.5 billion, up 6% over June last year. Consolidated same-store sales for the month increased 6% over last year.

•Costco, which has been building momentum, posted a 6% rise in same-store sales, ahead of the 5.5% gain that was expected. The retailer also noted that same-store sales for its “soft lines” category, which includes jewelry and home furnishings, increased 10%.

•The Cato Corp. reported sales of $62.7 million for the four weeks ended July 31, an increase of 4% over sales of $60.4 million for the same period last year. Same-store sales for the month increased 2%.

•Ross Stores reported that sales increased 7% to $573 million for the four weeks ended July 31, up from $538 million for the four weeks ended 1 August. Same-store sales for the month grew 2% on top of a 4% increase in the prior year.

•Stein Mart reported net sales of $577.0 million for the month, down 5% compared to $607.1 in July 2009. Same-store sales also fell by 3.0%.

•Dress Barn reported net sales for the fourth quarter increased 78% to $710.9 million from $398.9 million recorded last year, primarily due to the inclusion of Justice brand sales of $245.6 million. Comparable sales increased 7% for the 13-week period ended July 24 compared to last year. Based upon the results, Dress Barn reaffirmed estimated fiscal year 2010 earnings per share guidance in the range of $1.80 to $1.85.

•DSW said its second quarter net sales increase 12.3% to $415.1 million. Same store sales increased 12% for the comparable period versus a decrease of 2.9% last year.
Net sales for the footwear retailer for the 26-week year-to-date period ended July 31 increased 14.5% to $864.7 million. Same store sales increased 14.1% for the comparable 26-week period versus a decrease of 3.8% last year. The company updated its estimates an annual comparable store sales increase of 7% to 9% and annual diluted earnings per share of approximately $1.80 to $1.95 for fiscal 2010.

•Tandy Leather Factory said that sales for the month of July were $4.6 million, up 5% from $4.3 million in July 2009.

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