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May Comp Crux

On the surface, the overall numbers in May were good but fell well short of expectations for a 5.4 percent total.

STUNNING MEDIOCRITY: On the surface, the overall numbers in May were good — Thomson Reuters’ same-store sales index tracked up 4.9 percent with advancers far outnumbering decliners — but fell well short of expectations for a 5.4 percent total. The majority of stores in the Thomson sample — 60.9 percent — missed analysts’ estimates, and three of the six biggest “misses” came from the nation’s largest apparel specialty retailer, Gap, and two of its biggest midtier department stores, J.C. Penney Co. and Kohl’s.

JEWELS AND FUELS: The month’s biggest increase came from Saks, up 20.2 percent, with Neiman Marcus and its 12 percent jump not far behind and Nordstrom’s 7.4 percent well ahead of estimates. While the affluent were clearly out and spending merrily on categories such as jewelry in the month of May, the budget conscious were clearly focused on getting the most out of every shopping excursion, helping both BJ’s and Costco outperform much of the retail field. Having relatively inexpensive gasoline on hand didn’t hurt the club merchants either.

CLIMATE CHANGE: Cool temperatures, floods, tornadoes and even forecasts of The Rapture made for a dramatic month, but the weather’s effect on business overall was difficult to gauge. Tony Buccina, president of merchandising at York, Pa.-based The Bon-Ton Stores Inc., said that while warm-weather goods account for less than a quarter of the firm’s business, “their performance drove the [company’s] entire comparable-store sales decrease” of 2.3 percent. With more seasonal weather just arriving in many parts of the country, retailers and the analysts who follow them this month will be looking for signs of a shift into summer gear.