It’s looking good for the mid and upper tiers of retailing — but not so much for the world’s largest retailer.

On Tuesday, Macy’s Inc. and Saks Inc. reported strong results for 2011, while Wal-Mart Stores Inc’s results lagged due to continued problems in apparel, suggesting that stores with better prices and products could outperform low-priced retailers this year.

Wall Street noticed the difference, sending shares of Saks up 3.3 percent to $11.23, as Macy’s stock increased 1.2 percent to $36.69 and Wal-Mart’s stock slumped 3.9 percent to $60.07.

The Dow, temporarily eclipsing 13,000 on both Tuesday and Friday, furthered some optimism on the near future on the part of retailers performing well, who also said they will be spending more on technology and omni-channel strategies. However, they voiced concerns about rising gas prices and Europe’s economy, and stressed that sustaining increases won’t be easy.

“Growth is going to come by taking market share and that’s what you saw Macy’s do in the last three years,” Terry Lundgren, Macy’s chairman, chief executive officer and president, told WWD.

Citing “a positive secular trend toward luxury,” Saks Inc. chairman and ceo Stephen I. Sadove, said “We’re feeling reasonably positive about 2012, but recognize that there are still a lot of headwinds and a lot of concerns with things like Europe that could affect the markets.”

Saks’ luxury customers, with their finances very much tied to the stock market, are feeling “a bit better,” Sadove added. And with aspirational shoppers, “slowly you’re starting to see that customer come back a little.”

Following Nordstrom Inc.’s report last week that earnings rose 11.4 percent in 2011, Macy’s said that 2011 adjusted earnings per diluted share rose 36 percent to $2.92, from $1.98 in 2010, marking the department store’s third consecutive year of significantly improved performance. Net income rose to $1.26 billion from $847 million, while sales reached $26.4 billion from $25 billion the year before. Comparable-store sales rose 5.2 percent.

For the fourth quarter ended Jan. 28, EPS were $1.74 compared to $1.55 the year before. Sales were $8.7 billion compared to $8.3 billion. The results, solid at both the Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s divisions, beat Macy’s expectations.

For 2012, Macy’s expects comp-store sales to grow 3.5 percent, EPS of $3.25 to $3.30 and online sales to top $2 billion.

Similar to Sadove’s assessment, Lundgren said consumers are feeling “a little bit better” about their jobs and finances compared to a year ago, even with prices at gas pumps starting to exceed $4 a gallon. “While high gas prices will be part of our lives at least through 2012, we have been experiencing [them] for a while and our business continues to perform well,” Lundgren said.

Macy’s core strategies for lifting sales — My Macy’s localization of assortments, Magic Selling training for associates and omni-channel — are in the “very early stages.…Every time we sit down and talk about the My Macy’s progress, we come up with great examples of what we are doing in certain markets and know we haven’t capitalized on it,” Lundgren said. A “Southern living strategy” that goes beyond just being aware of weather differences is being developed. “If you go to a wedding in certain parts of the South, you see gentlemen wearing bow ties and seersucker fabrications. We just think there is so much more opportunity to really become the locally relevant store in every market,” Lundgren said.

He said the Magic Selling program, which teaches the chain’s 130,000 sales associates selling techniques and gives them constant feedback, is in its “first inning.” Lundgren also cited progress in the “site-to-store-to-door” fulfillment program launched last year when 23 stores were given the capability to fulfill orders emanating online or in store by customers who can’t find what they want in that particular location. About 290 of Macy’s 800 doors will have fulfillment capacity this year, Lundgren said.

Macy’s said that, in the fourth quarter, cosmetics, fragrances, shoes, handbags, watches, men’s wear, textiles, housewares and furniture sold the best. Cold weather apparel, juniors and traditional casual women’s apparel were the weakest. However, this spring, Macy’s has redesigned its Charter Club private label with greater embellishments and values to bolster the segment.

At Saks, full-year earnings increased 56.3 percent to $74.8 million, or 45 cents a diluted share, from $47.8 million, or 30 cents, a year earlier. The operating income rate rose to 5.4 percent of sales, up from 3.9 percent the year before and ahead of the 2007 pre-recession margin of 4.4 percent. Sales rose 8.2 percent to $3.01 billion from $2.79 billion. Saks expects comp sales to rise 5 to 7 percent this year, building on 2011’s gain of 9.5 percent.

Saks boosted fourth-quarter profits 48 percent to $37 million, or 21 cents a diluted share, from $25 million, or 16 cents, a year earlier. Sales for the three months ended Jan. 28 rose 6.8 percent to $925.1 million from $866.3 million on a 7.7 percent gain in comp-store sales. Adjusted earnings of 17 cents a share came in 3 cents ahead of analyst estimates. Saks also unveiled plans to spend up to $95 million over the next four to five years to retool its merchandising, finance and human resource systems to support the omni-channel approach.

Wal-Mart, hampered by poor apparel sales and its recent investment in everyday low pricing, said earnings tallied $1.44 a share last quarter, compared to $1.50 a year ago, and were 2 cents below Wall Street expectations.

Consolidated net income for the quarter ended Jan. 31 dropped 14.7 percent to $5.16 billion from $6.06 billion in the year-ago period. For the year, income dropped 4.2 percent to $15.7 billion from $16.4 billion. Sales for the quarter came to $122.28 billion, up 5.8 percent from the year before. Sales for year rose 5.9 percent to $444 billion from $419 billion.

Wal-Mart this year expects profits from continuing operations to rise to $4.72 to $4.92 a diluted share — a range that shows growth from last year’s $4.54, but also opens up a potential shortfall given the $4.90 analysts had penciled in.

Wal-Mart U.S.’ comp-store sales gained 1.5 percent in the fourth quarter. Total U.S. comps, without fuel, rose 2.1 percent for the 13-week period ended Jan. 27. U.S. comps without fuel for the 52-week period ended Jan. 27 rose 0.9 percent, as both Sam’s Club and Wal-Mart U.S. ended the year with positive comps.

Apparel, which was impacted by unseasonably warm weather, had low-single-digit negative comps in the last quarter.

Sam’s Club posted a 5.4 percent comp increase for the quarter. International delivered $35.5 billion in sales in the quarter and more than $125 billion for the year. Square footage is expected to grow 4 percent to 5 percent in 2013, or 45 million to 49 million square feet.

Comps for the 13-week period ending April 27 are expected to be flat or up 2 percent. Net sales are forecast to grow 5 percent to 7 percent, or $22 billion to $31 billion, in 2013.

“Every segment of our company is growing,” said Mike Duke, Wal-Mart’s ceo. “Wal-Mart’s 10,000th unit — a Sam’s Club — opened in Mexico in November.”

The Dow ended the day up 15.82 points to 12,965.69, but traded as high as 13,004.97 — the second consecutive trading day the index has topped 13,000, a level not seen since 2008. The S&P Retail Index slipped 0.32 points to 571.23, but jumped as high as 577.58 in intraday trading, a new record for the index, which goes back to 2002. Markets were buoyed by a new rescue plan for Greece, which has been struggling to avoid a default on its debts.

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