By  on June 3, 2005

NEW YORK — Lousy weather doesn't necessarily mean lousy comps, especially among fashion and luxury retailers.

The specialty segment outperformed the rest of the retail market in May, as Wet Seal Inc. and Bebe Stores Inc. posted eye-popping same-store sales gains of 56.9 percent and 40.3 percent, respectively. Luxury continued to sizzle with standouts including The Neiman Marcus Group, with an 11 percent gain, and Nordstrom Inc., with a 7.4 percent monthly increase.

But the overall trend for May's sales showed mostly a mixed bag with positive and negative segments in each sector. On the downside, Saks Department Store Group posted a 2.6 percent decline in the month's comps. Aeropostale Inc. had a 4.9 percent decrease and Gap Inc.'s U.S. Gap division posted a 9 percent decline while Old Navy stores saw an 8 percent drop.

Positive players in the month were J.C. Penney Co. with a 3.5 percent increase, and Abercrombie & Fitch Co. with a 29 percent advance.

Among the 49 retailers tracked by WWD, 34 posted positive same-store sales in May, while 15 had a decline. Specialty retailers — bolstered by the increases from Wet Seal and Bebe — significantly outperformed the department store and mass merchant sectors with a 7.9 percent average increase, the highest aggregate increase in nine months. Department stores as a whole had a 2 percent same-store sales increase while mass merchants posted a 0.5 percent aggregate May increase.

Many retailers cited May's below-average temperatures and higher markdowns for the sales weakness, but denim proved a strong seller among retailers with positive results.

Because colder weather and rain have often been cited since late March for poor sales levels, apparel retailers had little excuse for not having the right mix of unique and more weather-appropriate merchandise on hand, said Holly Guthrie, senior vice president at Morgan Keegan & Co., who covers the specialty retail segment.

"How can people complain about the weather when Bebe did a 40 [percent comp]?" Guthrie said. "Everybody knows that May will bring different kinds of weather. If you're a good merchandiser, you carry some long-sleeved knits and light sweaters...and the better retailers [in May] did that."

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