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March Sales Hit by Calendar Shift

Stores focused on combination of March and April results.

Retail sales, under pressure from wintry weather since the start of 2014, felt the wrath of a calendar shift in March.

Most retailers sharing comparable sales results for last month reported decreases, although generally smaller than anticipated by analysts, as Easter’s shift into mid-April this year from late March last year made for tougher sales comparisons.

L Brands Inc. reported a 1 percent decline in comparable sales for the month, with Victoria’s Secret off 1 percent and Bath & Body Works down 2 percent. Amie Preston, chief investor relations officer, estimated that the later Easter this year chopped 2 to 3 percentage points off the result for last month. “This shift will positively impact April, and therefore we expect April comps to be up mid-single digits,” she said, estimating a low-single digit increase for the two months combined.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected L Brands’ comps to drop 1.6 percent last month, with Victoria’s Secret down 1.3 percent.

Stein Mart Inc. registered a 0.9 percent increase in March comps, lower than the 3.5 percent gain expected by analysts. The company said that its home state of Florida and the rest of the Southeast had comp increases, while Texas, the Gulf States and the Northeast were “more challenged.”

Both of the teen retailers reporting results had comp declines last month, with The Buckle Inc. down 1.8 percent and Zumiez Inc., reporting late Wednesday, trending down 2.9 percent. However, the decreases were less severe than the respective 3.2 and 4.4 percent drops projected by Thomson Reuters.

Costco Wholesale Corp. last month saw comps increase 5 percent overall and 6 percent in the U.S. when gasoline sales were excluded. Those figures beat analysts’ projections for increases of 3.5 and 5.5 percent, respectively, and stood as the only increases reported Thursday other than Stein Mart.

Cato Corp. comps were off 5 percent, 1 point more than anticipated, but John Cato, chairman, president and chief executive officer, said the company wasn’t adjusting its earnings expectations for the first quarter. They are now set at between 89 and 95 cents a diluted share.

Gap Inc. is set to report its results for March after the close of the markets this afternoon.