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February Sales Improve Late in Month

Retailers see results pick up as weather improves.

Zumiez

Retail sales began the fiscal year on a chilly note in February, but sales trends improved along with the weather late in the month.

Expected by Thomson Reuters to post median increases of 2.8 percent for the month, most retailers reporting monthly same-store sales came in at or slightly above expectations.

L Brands Inc. reported comparable-store sales were up 2 percent during the month,, with Victoria’s Secret up an identical 2 percent, ahead of expectations for a 1.4 percent increase overall and a 1.3 percent gain at its biggest brand. Bath & Body Works fell short of expectations, generating a 1 percent increase versus the 2.4 percent gain anticipated, on average by analysts.

Fresh off a 3.7 percent comp increase in fiscal 2013, Stein Mart Inc.’s February comps fell 2.1 percent against analysts’ estimate of a 2.5 percent improvement. Its Florida and Texas stores had increases, but “most other areas experienced sales declines due to severe winter weather, with the Northeast and Midwest being impacted the most,” the company said.

The two remaining teen retailers in the comp sample did better than expected, with The Buckle Inc. down 1.4 percent and Zumiez Inc. ahead 2 percent. Analysts had expected Buckle to report a 4 percent decline and Zumiez a 0.9 percent increase.

Specialty retailer Cato Corp. exceeded estimates with a 1 percent increase versus a projected 2 percent decline.

“February sales were negatively impacted by winter storms the first two weeks of the month,” said John Cato, chairman, president and chief executive officer of the Charlotte, N.C.-based company. “However, that impact was offset by strong selling in the last two weeks of the month driven by warmer weather and tax refund spending.”

Costco Wholesale Corp. reported financial results for its second quarter, ended Feb. 16, that missed consensus views, but its February results matched estimates for a 4 percent comp increase in its U.S. stores, excluding gas.

Richard Galanti, chief financial officer of Costco, pointed out that the first four weeks of the quarter, including Thanksgiving and Black Friday, “represented the majority of earnings underperformance in the quarter.”

Gap Inc. will report its February results after the close of the markets today. Comps are expected to rise 0.9 percent, with the Gap and Old Navy brands duplicating that increase and Banana Republic ahead 0.4 percent.