July Retail Comps Miss—Concern for Back to School Sales?

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

Summer Clearance SalesNew York—American consumers continued to look for bargains and held off spending on fall and back-to-school purchases in July.

Of the 11 retailers that still release monthly sales figures, comparable store sales came in below Wall Street expectations, registering 3.9% growth, compared to an estimate of 4.4%, yet above the 1.4% sales growth in the year-earlier period. Excluding drugstores, July comp sales registered 3.3% growth versus the 3.9% estimate, according to Thomson Reuters.

The news came as retailers head into the crucial months of back to school, second biggest selling period of the year.

In another report of 10 retailers’ sales, the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) reported July comp sales rose 3.8%. The rise in the number, which excludes drugstores, was below June’s 5.5% increase.

“This raises more concern about the back-to-school season,” said Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics, a research firm. “A vast number of shoppers are sticking to their shopping lists and are being very deal-driven.”

Consumer Confidence Down

July retail sales are traditionally among the weakest of the year since so many consumers are away on vacations or are planning to spend on back to school.

However, retailers offered aggressive sales in order to clear shelves of summer items ahead of the back-to-school rush.

“Our survey suggests that the majority of consumers will begin their back-to-school shopping in August, which bodes well for a continuation of the current sales pace that we have seen over the previous two months,” said Michael Niemira, chief economist at ICSC.

Meanwhile, the U.S. consumer confidence index dropped to 80.3 in July from a revised 82.1 in June. Economists had been expecting the index to dip to 81.0 from the 81.4 originally reported for the previous month.

Among the retailers still reporting monthly (and some quarterly) sales results on Thursday were:

•L Brands Inc. (formerly known as Limited Brands) reported a 3% increase in its July comparable store sales with total net sales rising to $678.4 million, from the prior-year period’s $649.8 million.

For the 13 weeks ended August 3, the company posted net sales of 5% to of $2.52 billion with a comparable store sales growth of 2%.

Looking ahead, the company expects second quarter earnings per share of about 60 cents versus its earlier range of 50 to 55 cents. Analysts’

average estimate earnings per share of $0.54 for the second quarter. Analysts’ estimates typically exclude one-time items.

•Gap Inc. said July comp store sales data rose only 1%, just missing analysts’ average estimate of 1.6% and significantly below the 10% comparable sales growth it reported last year.

Total net sales for the second quarter rose 8% compared to a year earlier to $3.87 billion. Net sales for the four-week period ended Aug. 3 rose 5.6% to $1.12 billion.

By division, Gap Global reported a comparable store sales gain of 7%; Banana Republic Global had a 1% decline in comp sales in July; and, Old Navy Global posted a 5% decrease in its comp store sales.

American Apparel Inc. reported that its July comparable store sales rose 8%.

Sales in stores grew 6%, while online sales increased 23%.

Total revenue rose 5% to $57.6 million. Revenue from its wholesale business, which sells clothing to other distributors and screen printers, rose 2%.

•Buckle Inc. said its July comparable store sales were up 2.1%, just missing analysts’ average estimate for a 2.3% increase.. Total July revenue rose 16.7% to $77.2 million.

For the quarter ended Aug. 3, comp store sales rose 3.2% while total revenue rose almost 8% to $232.5 million. Analysts expected $229.4 million.

•Zumiez Inc. reported a 0.8% increase in comparable store sales for July. The marginal comps growth was due to rise in dollars per transaction, partially offset by lower comparable store transactions, the teen board sport retailer said.

Total net sales for July increased 19.3% to $56.1 million from $47 million.

•Cato Corp. reported a 5% drop in its July comp store sales, larger than the 4% drop analysts had expected.

“July same-store sales reflect the continuing economic uncertainty and the related volatility we have seen throughout much of the year,” CEO John Cato said.

Meanwhile for the quarter ended Aug. 3, Cato expects per share earnings at the high end of its 42-cent-to-48-cent range

Sales were down 1% to $229.4 million and missed the $237 million expected by analysts. Comparable store sales for the quarter fell about 2%.

•Stein Mart reported its July comparable store sales increased 3.7%. Total sales increased 5.8% to $74.6 million.

For the second quarter: comparable store sales were up 6.4% and total sales were up 3.8%.

“I am pleased with our sales performance in July which wrapped up a great second quarter where our comparable store sales increased 6.4%,” said CEO Jay Stein. “Our customers responded well to our merchandise assortment during the first half of the year and we are looking forward to introducing her to our great fall assortment.”

•Costco saw its net sales for July rise 7% to $7.87 billion. However, comparable store sales just 4%, disappointing analysts who had expected a 5.1% increase.

The company accounted for the discrepancy with the negative effect foreign exchange rates had on comparable sales, though that was partly offset by the positive impact of gasoline prices.

Excluding the effects of exchange rates and gas prices, comparable store sales would have increased 5%, according to the company.

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