Back to School

Back to School Bolsters Sept. Sales

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Back to SchoolAs parents bought back to school merchandise closer once again, September retail sales showed solid gains besting Wall Street’s forecasts.

The results today give offer a more positive sign as the holiday shopping season begins, although Americans are still dealing with an uncertain economy and high unemployment.

So-called same-store sales—considered an important measure of a retailer’s health because it excludes the effect of store openings—grew 2.7% last month, surpassing a 2.3% average estimates from analysts for 30 leading retailers, Retail Metrics said today.

In fact, retail sales grew for a 13th straight month in September even as many retailers faced tougher comparisons with 2009. After a year of declines during the recession, the industry posted its first gain last September, a 1.1% rise. Retail sales jumped 8.7% in March and slowed to an average 2.5% in the next five months,  Retail Metrics added.

“An upside surprise bodes well for the holiday season,” said Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics. “Back-to-school has a pretty strong correlation to holiday.”

‘Bodes Well for Holiday Sales’

The first two weeks of September drove much of the growth in the month as shoppers waited longer to do their back-to- school shopping to take advantage of discounts, Brian Sozzi, an analyst for Wall Street Strategies, reported today. “It’s clear that back to school came later this year once again, with parents toting their children back to the malls and outlets in the first weeks of September after browsing in August.”

The International Council of Shopping Centers’ index of September retail sales rose 2.6%, near the low end of its forecast that ranged from 2.5 to 3% growth.

“There was really good performance from a handful of stores, a number of pretty good performers and some are still struggling,” said Mike Niemira, ICSC director of research and chief economist. “To the extent some retailers talked about implications for holidays that seemed quite positive.”

Stores including Abercrombie & Fitch Co., Limited Brands Inc. and Macys Inc. posted strong September sales figures, citing their back to school sales. But that strength was partly offset by erratic weather in the last week of the month, including a heat wave on the West Coast and tropical storms on the East Coast.

Gap, Wet Seal and Target, reported that revenue dropped off in the second half of the month, particularly in the last week.  While some cited the weather factor, Sozzi said that it could also indicate “the consumer has prepared themselves to pause prior to the holidays, preferring to bolster savings in the lead-up to the holidays.”

Among the September sales results release today are:

∙Macy’s Inc. revenue figure rose 4.8%, ahead of analysts’ expectations of a 3.3% gain. “The back-to-school season has been one of our most successful in years,” said Terry Lundgren, ceo, whose Macy’s stores introduced the Material Girl collection by Madonna and her daughter. “The sales growth at both Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s has fueled a high level of energy and spirit [and] we believe this momentum will work to our benefit as we approach the upcoming holiday selling season.” For the five weeks ending October 2, total sales rose 6.9% to $2.18 billion. Year-to-date revenue at stores open at least year climbed 5%, with total sales up 7% to $14.93 billion.

∙Dillard’s same-store sales rose 3%, ahead of expectations for flat sales. Total sales increased 3% to $532.3 million compared to sales of $519.3 million in September last year. The retailer said that its sales “were slightly above the average total company trend in the Central region, consistent with trend in the Eastern region and below trend in the Western region.”

∙JCPenney’s revenue in stores open at least one year rose 2.9%, slightly missing the 3.1% gain analysts expected. The company said consumers are shopping closer to the time they need items such as back-to-school products. The retailer said that its same-store sales increased 5.1%.

∙Kohl’s reported a 3% increase in comparable store sales for September. This compares to a 5.5% increase in the year-ago period. On average, analysts expected a 3.3% increase in comps for the month. Total sales for the month increased 5.3% to $1.54 billion from $1.46 billion in 2009. Kevin Mansell, chairman, president and ceo, said, “We are pleased with our sales performance in September, especially given the comparison to last year’s 5.5% comparable store sales increase. The Southeast and Midwest regions outperformed the company. From a line-of-business perspective, the Footwear business once again reported the strongest comparable store sales for the month.” For the quarter-to-date period, Kohl’s comps increased 3.7%, while total sales increased 6.5% to $2.96 billion from $2.78 billion in the prior-year period. Kohl’s comps for the year-to-date period increased 5.3%. Total sales increased 8.5% to $11.09 billion from $10.22 billion a year ago.

∙Bon Ton reported comparable store sales for September jumped 5.9%, exceeding management’s expectations. Total sales increased 5% to $299.2 million compared with $282.9 million for the prior year period.

∙ Stage Stores posted a 1.8% increase as shoppers bought more cosmetics, footwear and men’s items. The performance topped Wall Street’s expectations and was the fifth straight month of improved results for the department store chain. Total sales rose 4.8% to $118 million.

∙Nordstrom’s revenue figure rose 7.5%, better than the 4.3% analysts expected.

The store said preliminary total retail sales for September reached $810 million, a 12.5% increase over 2009.

∙Neiman Marcus Group posted results that reflect high-end spending’s gradual recovery, with a jump in net sales of 4.9% to $371 million. Same-store sales increased 4.7%.

∙Saks Inc. reported revenue in stores open at least one year rose 6.5%, nearly double the 3.8% gain analysts predicted. Net sales totaled increased 5.9% to $256.4 million compared to $242.2 million in the prior year.

∙Target said sales of food and health care products were strong but apparel sales dropped off in the last week of the month. Its revenue in stores open at least a year rose 1.3% in September, missing analyst predictions of a 1.9% rise. Target expects the figure to rise in the low single digits in October.

∙Gap Inc reported that same-store sales fell 2% against flat estimates, although total sales rose 1% to $1.34 billion. The company said that due to the weaker-than-expected sales the company expects “some pressure in October to clear through fall inventory in advance of the holiday,” which could mean heavy discounts. Gap North America was down 1%, while Banana Republic was flat and Old Navy slipped 5%. International was the only positive spot, where same-store sales rose 3%. “We are pleased that we continued to deliver on our goal of driving overall sales growth, despite September being more challenging than we anticipated,” said Sabrina Simmons, chief financial officer.

∙Limited Brands’ revenue in stores open at least a year rose 12%, almost triple the 4.1% analysts expected. Total sales at the parent of Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works rose 12.4% to $735.8 million. For the year thus far, same-store sales are up 9%.

∙Abercrombie & Fitch reported better-than-expected results hitting a 13% increase, far above the 3.6% rise analysts expected. The teen retailer has been lowering prices in an effort to entice shoppers into its stores. It cut costs by 12% during the month and 14% year-to-date.

∙ American Eagle Outfitters is up after raised guidance and after posting September comparable sales gains of 4.0% versus an expected slight drop in the sales. Total sales for the month increased 4% to $251 million.

 ∙Aeropostale announced that total net sales last month increased 9% to $204.2 million. The company’s same-store sales increased 3%.

∙The Buckle announced that same-store net sales increased 3.0%.  Total net sales for the month increased 8.7% to $87.1 million.

∙Wet Seal’s revenue at stores open at least a year dipped 0.7% in September, pinched by lower sales at its Arden B unit. Total sales for the month increased about 2% to $51.2 million on the strength of the company’s Wet Seal stores. Sales at Arden B stores fell 10%. While sales at its namesake stores climbed 4% in the period, the retailer said Thursday that the second half of the month became more challenging at those locations, as peak back-to-school business had passed. 

∙ Zumiez raised its third quarter guidance after posting a significant rise of 17% in same store sales in September.

∙TJX Companies reported September sales were $2.1 billion, up 6%. Same-store sales increased 1% compared to last year.

∙Ross Stores reported that September sales increased 6% to $666 million. Same-store sales for the month rose 2% on top of an 8% gain in the prior year.

∙Stein Mart reported a same-store sales increased of 0.4% for September. Total sales for the period were $101.4 million, a decrease of 0.6%.

∙ The Cato Corp. reported sales of $72.1 million for the month, a 3% increase. Same-store sales increased 2% over the prior year.

 ∙Costco’s same store rose 5% in September, beating analysts’ average estimate of 4.5%. The company also reported its fourth-quarter net income rose 16% on higher revenue from membership fees and international operations.

∙BJ’s Wholesale’s sales increased 1.5% weaker than the expected 2.1% rise.