March Comps Softer Thanks to Easter Shift to April

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

Lbrands-030614New York—With the harshest of winter subsiding last month, it still look a flurry of discount promotions to lure shoppers into retail stores. The result? Comparable store sales improved but were only fair to middling since the shift of Easter into April hurt March comps this year. But April comps are expected to benefit.

At Thomson Reuters, the tally of the dozen or so remaining retailers—excluding drugstores—who released monthly sales figures came in at a 2.4% increase, lagging behind a 2.7% increase in March 2013.

Retail Metrics Inc., a retail research firm, said March comp store sales were up 3.5%, ahead of its forecast for a 2.5% increase. But Ken Perkins, president, said stripping out Costco’s very high 5% comp increase in March, the overall real sales were up only 1.6%.

But April Will Benefit?

“Due to the slow start to the spring selling season, April results take on added meaning this year,” Perkins said. “Retailers and investors will be looking for strong Easter sales coupled with the release of pent-up demand for warmer weather merchandise this month.

Looking ahead to April’s comp store sales, analysts said they expect to see a rebound in activity, especially pent up demand from the lower shopping in the first quarter due to bad winter weather.

“Weather shouldn’t be a challenge, there are minimal economic headwinds we see on the horizon, and store traffic should pick up,” said Euclid data analyst Breton Birkhofer, adding that continuing heavy promotional activity should also drive shoppers into stores.

Separately, the International Council of Shopping Centers said forecast a 3.5% to 4% sales increase in April.

The majority of retailers, including majors such as Walmart, Target, Macy’s Inc., Kohl’s, JCPenney etc. no longer release monthly sales figures.

The following retailers still report their monthly sales figures. Gap Inc. and American Apparel are expected to release their reports later this afternoon.

●L Brands Inc. said today that it comparable store sales in March were down 1% but still managed to beat analysts’ expectations for a 1.6% decline.

The parent of Victoria’s Secret blamed the shift of Easter to April for the fall which hurt its key sales figure by 2 to 3 percentage points.

Total sales rose 3% to $923.7 million compared with $894.8 million a year ago.

●Buckle, Inc. said its March comp sales fell 1.6%, but declined less than the 3.2% drop analysts had predicted.

Total Net sales for the month were essentially flat at $106.6 million compared to net sales of $106.7 million last year.

●Zumiez said Wednesday that its comp sales fell 2.9% for March, but the measure came in better than analysts had anticipated. Analysts were anticipating a 4.4% decline.

The board sports fashion retailer said fewer purchases and less spent on each purchase during the period weighed on the comp sales figure. Stronger sales were reported in accessories and juniors but weaker sales in footwear, men’s and boy’s departments.

Total revenue for March increased 4.3% to $63.6 million from $61 million last year.

●Cato Corp. reported a 5% decline in its comp store sales for March.

In addition, the company backed its first quarter earnings per share view of 89 cents to 95 cents.

Total sales were down 3% to $102.0 million from $105.6 million in March 2013.

●Stein Mart Inc. reported today a 0.9% increase in its comparable store sales for March.

Total sales rose to $136.3 million from $135.4 million during the same period last year.

The company said that March sales were negatively affected by the shift of pre-Easter selling from March to April and cooler than normal temperatures in many parts of the country early in the month.

Geographically, Florida and the Southeast had solid comparable store sales increases, while Texas, the Gulf States and the Northeast were more challenged.

●Costco Wholesale Corp. said March comp store sales increased 5% helped by an extra day in the period and a shift in the timing of Easter.

Analysts expected a 3.5% rise including fuel sales.

“This calendar shift positively impacted this year’s net and comparable sales by an estimated one to one and one-half percent,” Costco said.

Total March net sales rose 8% to $10.43 billion. Excluding the negative impact of foreign exchange rates and gasoline prices, comp sales sales rose 7 percent. International same-store sales for March, excluding fuel, were up 9%.


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