Retailers gave back some of the gains registered in March last month as both the shift in Easter timing and a lack of clear fashion direction cut into same-store sales results.


Stores, which had largely shifted into positive territory in March, reported April declines in most cases, although rarely large enough to affect their projections for first-quarter earnings, which start arriving later this month. Many stores reporting declines noted that the combined results for March and April were still largely positive.


Cool, damp weather bore some of the blame for the sales shortfalls, as did consumer anxiety related to the economies of Greece and southern Europe and recent declines in the stock market. Yet, upscale retailers were probably the strongest performers for the month, as evidenced by comparable-store sales gains of 13.7 percent, 7.5 percent and 3.2 percent at Neiman Marcus Inc., Nordstrom Inc. and Saks Inc., respectively.


Teen retailers found increases hard to come by in April, with even such perennial sales leaders as Aeropostale Inc. and The Buckle Inc. declining 5 percent and 5.7 percent, respectively.


Macy’s Inc. registered a 1.1 percent increase in April comparable-store sales and noted that the result for the combined March-April period was a 6.2 percent increase. Dillard’s Inc. reported a 5 percent decline last month but a 2 percent pickup for the two-month period. J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and Kohl’s Corp. were down 3.3 percent and 7.7 percent, respectively, in April.


Target Corp. said comps were down 5.9 percent last month, a bit softer than expected. However, Gregg Steinhafel, chairman, president and chief executive officer, said, “April sales in our higher-margin categories remained particularly strong, and both of our business segments continued to outperform their respective profit plans for the first quarter.”


Gap Inc. moved back into negative territory as comps fell 3 percent, with Gap’s North American stores down 6 percent, Banana Republic’s down 2 percent and Old Navy down 1 percent. However, sales for the first quarter were positive.


“With sales growth across all of our brands and significantly improved earnings, we are very pleased with our first-quarter performance,” said Sabrina Simmons, chief financial officer of Gap Inc.


The largest off-price stores in the U.S. managed gains, although not of the double-digit variety to which they’d become accustomed. The TJX Cos. Inc. was up 4 percent and Ross Stores Inc. up 3 percent. Michael Balmuth, vice chairman and ceo of Ross, noted that comps for the March-April period rose 9 percent despite April numbers coming in below it recently raised forecast. 


“We believe these results reflect that we may have misjudged the impact of the Easter calendar shift on our March and April business,” he said.


In the first hour of trading Thursday, the S&P Retail Index, coming off of two days of declines, was down 0.9 percent to 463.06. The Dow Jones Industrial Average slipped 0.2 percent to 10,841.74.


For complete coverage, see Friday’s issue of WWD.

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