WARM SPELL DAMPENS OCTOBER APPAREL SALES

Byline: Catherine M. Curan

NEW YORK--Major retail chains reported Thursday that sales were lackluster in October and blamed the weak business on warm weather cooling the demand for women's apparel.
Outerwear sales were hit the hardest, while hard goods and non-seasonal items such as cosmetics performed satisfactorily.
"Apparel sales were below their year-to-date trend, especially at the department stores due in part to unseasonably warm weather," said Robert Ulrich, Dayton Hudson Corp. chairman and ceo.
There were some standouts on an otherwise uninspiring retail landscape. Ann Taylor Stores Corp. posted an impressive 20.2 percent same-store sales gain. Ann Taylor stock was up 1 1/4 to 44 1/4 Thursday on the New York Stock Exchange. Talbots said same-store sales rose 10.8 percent. The Limited Inc. pulled out of a prolonged period of declines by posting a modest increase of 2 percent. Express produced a low single-digit gain, the first positive same-store sales comparison since September 1993. However, same-store sales at Limited Stores dropped in the low double digits and Lerner comparable-store sales were down in high single digits. Total sales rose 10 percent to $536.9 million, and margins improved in all divisions.
Gap Inc. posted a 2 percent same-store sales gain, better than expected. Thomas Tashjian of First Manhattan had been expecting a 1 percent decline. After the results were reported, Gap shares rose 2 5/8 to 36 1/4, while shares of Limited gained 1 3/4 to 20 3/4 Thursday on the NYSE. Sears Roebuck & Co. and J.C. Penney Co. again posted solid gains, helped by hard goods sales, and performances in apparel that beat most of the competition.
At Sears Merchandise Group, domestic same-store sales rose 7 percent. Chairman and ceo Arthur C. Martinez cited significant sales increases in dresses, cosmetics, fine jewelry and men's dresswear, as well as home goods. A spokeswoman said day-to-evening, careerwear, casualwear and pantsuits have been popular.
Penney's posted a 4.5 percent same-store sale gain, with sales up 4.6 percent to $1.2 billion. Chairman and ceo William R. Howell said there were consistent sales gains in family apparel, with strength in women's casual sportswear and girl's apparel. A spokesman said women's shoes were strong, as were cosmetics, fine jewelry and accessories. The catalog racked up a 15.8 percent gain, with strength in misses' sportswear. Dillard Department Stores posted a 6 percent comparable-store sales gain, and sales climbed 10 percent to $382.4 million.
Neiman Marcus Group reported a 4.4 percent same-store sales gain. Neiman Marcus same-store sales were up in the mid-to-high single digits, and NM Direct mail-order sales were up in the mid-single digits. Bergdorf Goodman posted a low, single digit same-store sales gain. Contempo Casuals reported same-store sales off in the low teens, but a Neiman's spokesman noted that gross margins improved, with better sell-throughs at regular prices. Dayton Hudson's same-store sales were up 4.2 percent, and sales increased 9.6 percent to $1.6 billion. Mervyn's posted better than expected results, reporting a 3.5 percent same-store gain. The department store division was below plan with same-store sales down 1.7 percent. Target was on plan, reporting a 6.5 percent comparable-store sales gain. DH stock jumped 4 3/8 to 81 7/8 on the NYSE Thursday.
May Department Stores Co. posted a 3.8 percent same-store sales gain, with sales up 7 percent to $869 million. Same-store sales at the department stores were up 5.7 percent. Mercantile Stores Corp. reported same-store sales up 2.5 percent.
Federated's comparable-store sales were up 1.5 percent and below expectations, said Allen Questrom, chairman and ceo. He blamed the drop on unseasonable weather in some regions. Sales rose 5.8 percent to $593.4 million. A spokeswoman said that in women's sportswear, designer/
bridge and better misses' lines were strong, as well as petite and junior. Other hot categories were dresses and suits, fashion jewelry, handbags and shoes.
Kmart Corp. posted a 4 percent same-store sales gain, with total sales up 9.7 percent to $2.7 billion. "Sales strengthened in the last two weeks of October," noted chairman ceo Joseph E. Antonini. "Unfortunately, however, gross margins continued to be under pressure with the mix of both apparel and hardline sales being heavily weighted toward promotional items and lower-margined merchandise." Wal-Mart Stores comparable-stores rose only 3.6 percent, dropping off from the year-to-date trend of 7.4 percent. Wal-Mart discount units posted a 4.9 percent comparable-store gain, while Sam's Clubs were nearly flat. Total sales rose 20 percent to $7.2 billion.
Among those with same-store sales declines were Chico's FAS, 17.9 percent; Charming Shoppes, 14 percent; U.S. Shoe Corp's women's retail division, 11.9 percent; Bradlees, 8 percent; Younkers Inc. 6.8 percent; Claire's Stores, 5 percent; The Clothestime Inc. 3 percent; Value City Department Stores, 2.7 percent and Ames Department Stores, 2 percent.--Fairchild News Service

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