March Comp Crux

March didn’t just go out like a lamb but arrived like one, too.

WEATHERING HEIGHTS: March didn’t just go out like a lamb but arrived like one, too, converting the whining about hard-to-sell cold-weather apparel into an energetic reaction to lighter-weight spring arrivals. Still, executives said there was more to the month’s strong showing than simply the meteorological, coming as it did against a backdrop of steady, if slow, economic improvement and despite gas prices poised to hit a new record. While not a high-volume month, April, deprived of last year’s “Easter benefit,” is expected to be a tougher test.

This story first appeared in the April 6, 2012 issue of WWD.  Subscribe Today.

GAP SNAPBACK: With its 8 percent jump in comps last month, Gap Inc. put together back-to-back gains for the first time since it added 4 and 5 percent way back in October and November of 2010. The March numbers were especially encouraging as they included a double-digit advance of 11 percent at Old Navy North America and a 9 percent pickup at Gap North America. Banana Republic, up 12 percent in February, stayed positive with a 5 percent increase and international, expected by analysts to decline 6.8 percent, instead moved to 2 percent up from 9 percent down in February.

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A few years ago, it might have been easy to attribute the strong numbers generated by the nation’s two largest off-price retailers, The TJX Cos. Inc. and Ross Stores Inc., to nervous shoppers for whom thrift had practically become a religion. Not anymore. The two reported matching comp increases of 10 percent last month and, like Target Corp., lifted first-quarter profit estimates.