January Comp Sales Rise, Easily Beating Forecasts

In Reports, What's New, Industry News by Jeff Prine


Post holiday clearance sales help entice U.S. consumers into stores last month.

New York—Whether it was the U.S. Congress finally averting the so-called fiscal cliff in early January, a spate of Arctic cold that struck much of the nation, or a stock market headed back to new heights, January retail sales turned out to be better than expected.

Of the 18 or so major retailers that still report monthly sales figures, total comparable store sales increased 5.8%, according to Thomas Reuters today. (Figures exclude drugstore chains). That beat both analysts’ estimates for a 3.5% increase and the 4.4% increased from January 2012.

In another preliminary report, Retail Metrics said that for the more than 20 companies it tracks, comp store sales were expected to rise 2.8% following the 2.6% gain in December.

Comparable store, or same store sales, tallies store locations open at least a year, making the figure a closely watched gauge of a retailer’s health since the figure only includes established stores. Recently opened or closed stores are excluded from the figure.

While U.S. consumer sentiment heated up in January following Congress’ decision to avert automatic tax hikes, much of the nation was under a chill from cold weather that sent consumers shopping for winter apparel and accessories.

Meanwhile, analysts credit improving home values and the improving U.S. stock market (The Standard & Poor’s 500 Index grew by its largest increase in more than a year—5% last month) with helping to encourage consumers to spend.

Effect of Payroll Tax Increase?

Looming, however, are higher gas prices and an increase in payroll taxes that could affect discretionary spending.

“Most people find ways to save money and still go out and spend money on clothing,” said David Bassuk, retail analyst at AlixPartners.

“It doesn’t seem like the payroll tax is having a major impact yet,” Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics, said in an interview before today’s results were released. But some analysts fear that in coming months consumers might tighten their spending when the reality of a smaller paycheck sinks in.

These January monthly sales reports mark the last time several retailers, including Macy’s Inc.. Bon-Ton Stores and Kohl’s, will report monthly sales results. While they will continue to report quarterly sales, these retailers are joining others, including Walmart, JCPenney, Abercrombie & Fitch, Dillard’s, Saks Inc. and Sears Holdings, that have already stopped releasing monthly sales.

According to Jim Sluzewski, spokesperson for Macy’s Inc., “What we are going to is really the industry standard.”

Retailers reporting today their January sales—as well as many preliminary quarterly, even annual results—include:

●Macy’s Inc. said its January comparable store sales rose 11.7% easily topping analysts’ average estimate for a 6.4% increase. For the month, total sales grew 34.6% to $1.799 billion.

“Simply put, January was an outstanding month for Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s. Our sales were driven by our strategy to flow-in more fresh fashion goods in December to better serve post-holiday shoppers seeking new and interesting merchandise,” said Terry J. Lundgren, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Macy’s, Inc.

Thanks to the strong February performance, Macy’s Inc. is raising its fourth-quarter earnings forecast due. The department store chain is also planning to freeze its pension and executive retirement plans in an effort to better manage rising costs.

Its fourth quarter earnings guidance is now in the range of $1.94 to $1.99 a share, compared with earlier forecast of $1.91 to $1.96 a share. For the fourth quarter, Macy’s Inc. comparable store sales were up 3.9%, and total sales grew 7.2% to $9.350 billion. Analysts’ consensus revenue estimate was for $9.28 billion in total sales.

●Kohl’s Corp. sailed past analysts’ expectations for a 3.1% comparable store sales in January. Instead the department store posted a 13.3% jump in its comp sales. Total sales were up 14.1% to $963 million.

“Our January performance allowed us to accomplish our goal of clearing seasonal merchandise, and we are happy with the balance and strength of our inventory across regions and categories as we enter fiscal 2013,” Kevin Mansell, Kohl’s chairman, president and ceo, said.

Kohl’s 2012 fiscal year, which included January 2013, had a 53rd week that ended Feb. 2. Sales for the fifth week were $169 million.

Kohl’s strong month allowed the company to squeak by with a 0.3% increase in comparable store sales for the year and a 1.9% increase for its fourth quarter. Comparable store sales do not include the 53rd week. Kohl’s no longer will report monthly sales, only quarterly sales.

●Nordstrom Inc. posted a January comparable store sales increase of 11.4%. Preliminary total retail sales rose 38.4% to $951. Excluding sales for the 53rd week, preliminary total retail sales for the four week period ended Jan. 26 increased 14.9%. The company said that the 53rd week is excluded from same-store sales calculations.

Fourth quarter comparable store sales increased 6.3% and preliminary fourth quarter total retail sales rose 13.5% to $3.60 billion.

●The Bon-Ton Stores, Inc. reported its January comparable store sales decreased 0.4%. Total sales, however, increased 15.2% to $200.8 million.

For its fiscal fourth quarter, the company reported comp store sales increased 1%. Total sales increased 3.2% to $1,015.1 million.  Its fiscal 2012 comparable store sales increased 0.5%. Fiscal 2012 total sales increased 1.2% to $2,919.4 million.

Keith Plowman, executive vice president and chief financial officer, added: “We are tightening our full year fiscal 2012 guidance to reflect adjusted EBITDA in a range of $160 million to $175 million and loss per share in a range of $1.35 to 60 cents a share.

●Stage Stores Inc. said its January comparable store sales rose 10.5%, while total sales increased to $100 million from $85 million in January 2012.

During the month, all merchandise category achieved same-store sales increase, and region wise, every region achieved a comparable store sales increase, with the Northeast, Mid Atlantic and South Central regions outperforming, the company noted.

For the fourth quarter, comparable store sales grew 6.6% and total sales increased to $528 million from $479 million last year.

For 2012, comp store sales increased 5.7% and total sales amounted to $1.646 billion, up from last year’s $1.512 billion. As previously forecast, the company still expects to meet or exceed the high end of its earnings guidance range for the 2012 fiscal year.

●Target Corp. topped analysts’ estimate for a 1.7% rise in its January comparable store sales with a 3.1% increase. Total sales rose 29.6% to $5.97 billion.

Gregg Steinhafel, chairman/president/ceo, said its Target’s customers “continue to shop with discipline in the face of a slow economic recovery and new pressures, including recent payroll tax increases.”

As a result, he said Target remains “focused on providing unbeatable value combined with a superior guest experience in both our stores and digital channels.”

For the quarter to date, comp store sales rose 0.4%. The figure is up 2.7% for the year to date. Total revenue was up 6.8% to $22.37 billion. For the year to date, total sales rose 5.1% to $71.96 billion.

●Gap Inc. posted an 8% increase in its January comparable store sales, a turnaround from January 2012 when it posted a 4% decrease. Total net sales were $1.13 billion compared to $833 million in January last year.

Comparable store sales from Gap North America increased 8%, while store sales from Banana Republic North America were up 8%. Comp store sales from Old Navy North America grew 12%, while sales from International rose 1%.

“We’re pleased with the continued momentum in the business across all our brands in North America,” said Glenn Murphy, chairman/ceo. “As we transition to 2013, our focus remains on delivering compelling product in order to sustain our positive sales performance.”

Gap Inc. also reported that its fourth quarter comparable sales increased 5%. Net sales for the fourth quarter ended Feb. 2 increased to $4.73 billion from $4.28 billion. Furthermore, the company expects fourth quarter earnings of 70 to 71 cents a share, while analysts predict 69 cents a share.

In its future monthly sales reports, Gap Inc. said it would be including its international results in each of its brands.

●Limited Brands Inc., operator of Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, said its January comparable store sales rose 9%, beating Wall Street analysts’ predictions for a 3.7% rise. Comp sales were up 8% at its Victoria’s Secret stores and up 15% at La Senza, its Canadian lingerie store chain.

Total January revenue rose 27% to $986.4 million. The extra week added $125 million in sales.

For the fourth quarter, which also ended Feb. 2, Limited said its comp store sales rose 5% while its total revenue increased 10% to $3.86 billion. Analysts’ consensus expects revenue of $3.76 billion.

●Cato Corp. cut its profit forecast again today after its January comp sales dropped 12%. Total revenue rose 26% to $63.8 million. The company got a boost because of an extra week of sales this fiscal January compared with 2012. On an adjusted basis, five-week revenue dropped 9%

Its fourth quarter comp sales fell 7% while total revenue rose 5% to $232 million. Cato now expects fourth quarter earnings of 27 cents to 29 cents a share, down from 35 cents a share in the same period last year.

●The Buckle, Inc. reported its January comparable store sales declined 2%. Total net sales increased 30.7% to $78.8 million.

For its fourth quarter, Buckle said comparable store sales were flat, while net increased 7% to $360.6 million. Analysts’ average expected sales of $355.70 million for the quarter.

●Wet Seal Inc. reported a January comparable store sales decline worse than analysts had expected. The teen retailer said its comp sales declined 9.4%.Total monthly sales were up 23.3% to $40 million.

“Our overall January sales results were below our expectations due to a comparable store sales decline in Wet Seal, partially offset by improved performance at Arden B,” said John Goodman, chief executive.

The company also said its fourth quarter comp sales dropped 8.3%. Total sales for the quarter were $161.7 million, down 0.9% from last year. Wet Seal expects a fourth quarter loss of 6 cents a share in line with analysts’ forecast loss.

●Hot Topic, Inc. said its four quarter comp sales rose 2.6%, while total net sales increased 11% to $233 million.

For the fourth quarter, comp store sales grew 2% at its Hot Topic stores and 5.4% at Torrid stores. .

“We are pleased with the strong performance of both divisions, including the company’s top-line sales growth, during the quarter and full year 2012. The success of the new Torrid branding and vertical product strategies reinforces the brand’s unit growth opportunity and–as previously announced–we plan to open 40 new Torrid locations in 2013,” said Lisa Harper, chairman/ceo. “Additionally, we expect many of the company’s new merchandising, system and process initiatives will continue to gain traction in 2013, supporting continued comp growth and additional margin expansion in all brands.”

●Zumiez Inc. said its comp store revenue in January increased 2.6%. That’s on top of an 11.1% gain in the same period last year. And better than analysts’ expectations for a 3.1% decline last month. Total sales for the four-week period ended Jan. 28 increased 57.9% to $50.3 million.

For its fourth quarter, Zumiez raised its forecast to between 65 cents and 66 cents a share, up from a previous guidance of 59 cents and 62 cents a share.

●Ross Stores, Inc.’s January comparable store sales were up 4% on top of a 5% comp store gain from January 2012. The figure topped analysts’ estimate for 3.5% gain. Total sales rose 30% to $672 million.

Meanwhile, for its quarter ended Feb. 2, Ross Stores said comp sales rose 5% while total sales rose15% to $2.761 billion. The retailer raised its earnings estimate for the quarter ended Feb. 2 to the range of $1.06 to $1.07 a share, up from its previous forecast of $1.05 to $1.06. For the full year, Ross said it expects earnings between $3.52 to $3.53 a share, up from its November view of $3.45 to $3.50. (The company noted that both projections include an estimated per-share benefit of about 10 cents from an extra week.)

“Sales for both January and the fourth quarter of fiscal 2012 were ahead of our expectations, as we continue to drive solid revenue growth by offering terrific assortments of compelling name-brand bargains that resonate with today’s value-focused consumers,” Michael Balmuth, chief executive, said.

●Stein Mart posted a 4.6% increase in its January comp store sales while total sales increased 31.3% to $60.1 million.

For its quarter ended Feb. 2, Stein Mart had an 11.3% increase in comparable store sales. Total sales reached $365.2 million, compared to $328.2 million for the same period in 2012.

Jay Stein, interim chief executive officer for Stein Mart, said, “I am pleased with our sales performance in January as well as fiscal 2012. …”

Total sales for the extra 53rd week were approximately $15.8 million.

●TJX Companies posted a 3% gain in its January comparable store sales, just missing analysts’ estimates for a 3.5% increase. Total sales rose 36% to $1.9 billion.

Citing its strong sales and margins in January, TJX now expects earnings for its quarter ended Feb. 2 to be between 80 cents and 81 cents, up from its prior forecast of 77 cents to 78 cents a share. For the full year, TJX expects earnings between $2.53 and $2.54 a share, up from its January view of $2.50 to $2.51 a share.

“Customer traffic once again drove this month’s comp increases across the board,” Carol Meyrowitz, chief executive, said.

●Costco’s January comparable store sales rose 4% just edging past the 3.9% increase analysts had expected. Total sales rose 7% to $9.35 billion in January from $8.74 billion a year earlier. Comp sales rose 3% in the United States and 5% internationally.

Stripping out the effects of gas prices and foreign currency exchanges, comp sales still increased 4%. Domestically, the figure rose 4% and 3% internationally.

The warehouse club said that there was one less day in the current period when compared with a year due to the timing of the New Year’s holiday. This hurt Costco’s total revenue and comp stores by 2%, the company said.

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