Wintery Weather Results in Meager March Comp Sales Results

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

Widespread winter storms hampered shopping in many part of the country in March.

Widespread winter storms hampered shopping in many part of the country in March.

New York—U.S. retailers reported their lowest comparable store gains in months today as widespread cold weather hindered March sales of spring merchandise that even an earlier Easter didn’t help.

According to Retail Metrics, a research firm, retailers overall posted a 0.6% increase in March comparable store sales. While Thomson Reuters expected March sales to increase 1.8% below its 2.2% estimated increase. It would be the lowest monthly comp sales since September 2009 when sales only rose 1.9%.

While having Easter fall in late March was originally viewed as a positive thing for March sales, it apparently didn’t help much since traditional Easter/spring purchasing was stymied by cold weather and snow storms in many regions of the country. Last month was the coldest March in 17 years, with the most snowfall in 20 years.

“While clearly that’s not a great number by any stretch, it could have been worse,” said Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics. “Wintry weather conditions persisted deep into March depressing spring apparel, home and garden, and seasonal merchandise sales.”

But he expects April will be stronger as consumers respond to colorful spring fashions. An earlier Easter, which meant one less selling day in March, will also help April results, Perkins said.

However, others predicted continued sluggishness due to consumers’ worries about the economy.

“The mass public is still not feeling good about discretionary spending,” said Nancy Liu, retail strategist at Kurt Salmon. “Gas prices are still high, the job market is still slow to recover, so there is a lack of confidence.”

As a result, some retailers may experience “pressure on inventories that could lead to heavier-than-usual discounting” in late spring and early summer, Liu said.

The number of retailers reporting month sales figures has been declining. Results no longer include Walmart, JCPenney, Macy’s Inc., Kohl’s, Dillard’s, Nordstrom, Target etc.

March results from Gap Inc. were pending as of press time, but among the other retailers reporting their March sales results were:

●L Brands, formerly Limited Brands Inc., the parent of Victoria’s Secret, said its comparable store sales rose 3% in March with the Easter shift into March negatively impacted its comps 1 to 2 points. Analysts had expected flat comp sales.

Total sales rose 6% to $894.8 million. The company also said its March merchandise margin rate was down slightly to last year. Inventories ended the month down 3% per square foot at cost versus last year.

At Victoria’s Secret, comp sales rose 2% on top of a 10% increase a year ago. At La Senza Canada, March comps were up 7%.

For April, the company projected comp sales to rise in the low-single digits, “plus some positive impact from the Easter calendar shift.”

● Cato Corp. said its March comparable store sales declined 11% due to cold weather that kept shoppers away and the timing of Easter. Total sales were up 2% to $105.6 million.

“March sales continued to be difficult,” said John Cato, chairman/president/ceo. “The Easter selling season, which is historically our strongest quarter, continued to see a declining trend in sales.”

While the company said March sales were hurt by Easter falling earlier this year, it expects a corresponding benefit in its April sales.

●Buckle Inc. reported its comparable store sales were flat, but still managed to beat analysts’ estimate for a decrease of 0.3%. Total net sales rose 1.1% to $106.7 million.

●Zumiez Inc. reported March comp sales jumped 19.7%, handily topping analysts’ expectations of a 7.5% increase. Total sales were up to $61 million from $50.9 million a year earlier.

●Ross Stores said its March comparable store sales were better-than-expected causing the off-price retailer to raise its profit estimate for the quarter. The company’s comp sales rose 2% when the company expected a 1% to 2% decline and analysts expected a 1% decline. Total sales increased 6 percent to $1.04 billion.

Ross Stores now expects its net income for its fiscal first quarter, which ends May 4, to top its previous forecast of $1 to $1.04 a share. Analysts’ average estimate expects $1.04 a share.

The company also said it maintains its estimate that April comp sales will increase 5% to 6%.

●Stein Mart Inc. said its March comp sales were down 2.8% as sales were hurt by cold weather and an earlier Easter holiday. Analysts’ average estimate expected a 0.5% increase. Total sales rose 4.3% to $133 million.

“This year, more than ever, it will be important to combine March and April sales results to get a true picture of our spring selling season due to this year’s Easter calendar shift,” said Jay Stein, chief executive.

Best selling categories included linens, men’s furnishings, gifts and ladies’ career sportswear while there was less demand for dresses, ladies’ special sizes and men’s sportswear. Geographically, sales were strongest in the West, Texas and Florida, but weaker in the Midwest, Northeast and most Eastern states, the company said.

●TJX Cos., which operates TJ Maxx and Marshalls, reported March comp sales fell 2%, worse than the 1% decline analysts expected. The company blamed the weather and the Easter shift, saying April should see sales improve. Total sales were up 5% to $2.4 billion.

“Overall business trends improved as the weather became warmer,” said Carol Meyrowitz, chief executive. “April is off to a good start, our inventories are in great shape, and we are seeing an enormous amount of desirable product in the marketplace.”

●Costco Wholesale Corp. posted a 4% increase in its March comparable store sales, but fell short of a 5.2% increase analysts expected as a result of lower gas prices and a strong dollar, which hurt its international sales figure. Net sales rose 7% to $9.67 billion.


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