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Mixed Performance for May Comps

Spring merchandise receipts get mostly favorable reviews.

The site of the Banana Republic store in Paris.

Most U.S. retailers posted modest comp-store sales gains in May, and they may have mom to thank. Retail analysts attributed the sales growth to the pre-Mother’s Day shopping falling later in May this year compared with early May last year.

“The Mother’s Day shift was more impactful,” said Richard Jaffe, a retail analyst at Stifel Nicolaus, adding that the calendar change likely snatched sales from April.

Gap Inc. posted a 2 percent increase in comparable-store sales, shy of the 3.1 percent expected, as respective increases of 8 percent, 6 percent and 1 percent at Banana Republic, Gap North America and international only partially offset a 1 percent decline at its largest business unit, Old Navy North America.

Janet Kloppenburg, president of JJK Research, said the decline at Old Navy was due to shifting an immensely popular and traffic-driving $1 flip-flop promotion out of May and into June. “There was no incremental demand strength there to compensate for operational changes,” she said.

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Macy’s Inc.’s 4.2 percent increase, reported Wednesday, exceeded estimates. The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. reported a 1.5 percent gain, helped by improvements in moderate ready-to-wear. “We are pleased with our May sales performance as compelling new offerings and refinements in our marketing efforts yielded positive results,” said Brendan Hoffman, president and chief executive officer, who touted double-digit increases in e-commerce as well.

Target Corp. was ahead of forecasts with a 4.4 percent increase, while Stein Mart Inc. posted a 3.1 percent gain versus estimates of a 0.5 percent increase. “It has been nearly six years since we had a monthly increase greater than this without the addition of a significant promotional event or impact from a calendar shift,” said Jay Stein, interim ceo of the company.

“Retailers continue to position compelling inventory at compelling prices,” said Joel T. Bines, managing director at Alix Partners.

Limited Brands Inc. continued to outperform expectations with a 6 percent increase that surpassed the 4.7 percent expected. Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works comped up 9 percent and 7 percent, respectively, beating forecasts for gains of 5.8 percent and 4.3 percent.

Nordstrom Inc. and Saks Inc. reported better-than-expected increases of 5.3 percent and 4 percent, respectively.

Bines said there could be headwinds for luxury retailers, since much of their business is derived from tourists. The euro on Thursday traded at $1.23 against the dollar, a 14.3 percent decline since May of last year.

“Given what’s going on externally, May’s performance seemed even more resilient,” said Arnold Aronson,

managing director of retail strategy at Kurt Salmon. “We’re facing recurring and embedded unemployment problems, still paying a lot for gas and the housing market hasn’t stabilized yet. When you look at the whole picture, the customer is still proving resilient.”

But Eric Beder, analyst at Brean Murray, Carret & Co., had a darker assessment of the month. “We might be coming back to a period where the consumer is afraid to shop. There’s still a fashion-driven customer, but the day-to-day customer is taking a pause.”

Stage Stores Inc. reported an 8 percent comp increase, well above the 2.2 percent anticipated gain, aided by increases in all lines of business.

On-trend teen retailers were in short supply, with Zumiez the lone member of the group to perform well. Zumiez logged a 13.7 percent hike, more than twice the expected uptick. The Buckle Inc.’s 0.2 percent increase fell short of the 3.3 percent increase anticipated, and The Wet Seal Inc.’s decrease of 8.8 percent for the month was worse than the 8.3 percent drop estimated. Wet Seal’s flagship unit was down 8.7 percent for the month and Arden B. was off 9.3 percent, while e-commerce revenues declined 5 percent.

“If you’re an underperforming retailer right now, it’s much more difficult to improve performance because consumers are much more willing to shift,” said Bines. “Market share is moving and once shares move they tend to be fairly sticky.”

Kohl’s Corp., which was expecting to report a 1.2 percent drop, ended up posting a 4.2 percent decline. Kevin Mansell, the midtier retailer’s ceo, projected a “modestly negative” comp result for the second quarter. He cited strength in accessories and said that men’s and women’s apparel were better than the company average.”

Kloppenburg said Kohl’s has been trying to move to an everyday low price strategy and trying to bring more brands into its assortment. “Kohl’s made it clear that it was underinventoried,” added Jaffe.