Retailers ended their fiscal years with strong comparable sales figures as they easily bested year-ago January results that were impeded by poor weather.
“Our fourth-quarter 5.6 percent comparable-store sales increase capped off a great second-half performance,” said Jay Stein, chief executive officer of Stein Mart Inc. “Sales continued to build throughout the quarter, particularly as we did not have a repeat of last year’s severe weather events.”
L Brands Inc. posted a 7 percent comp increase for the month, well ahead of the 1.9 percent increase expected, on average, by analysts. Victoria’s Secret stores were up 4 percent for the month and Bath & Body Works up 16 percent, blowing past analysts’ estimates for gains of 1.6 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively.
Amie Preston, chief investor relations officer, noted that merchandise margins for the month were “up significantly” with inventory at cost down 10 percent on a per-square-foot basis.
L Brands celebrated the strong performance by lifting its fourth-quarter earnings estimate to a range of $1.78 to $1.80 a diluted share from previous estimates for eps of $1.61 to $1.71. Additionally, the Columbus, Ohio-based retail raised its annual dividend 47 percent to $2 a share per year and declared a special $2 dividend. It also authorized $250 million for share repurchases, $91 million of which came from its previous buyback program.
Leslie Wexner, chairman and ceo of L Brands, said the dividend and share repurchase “reflect confidence in our growth opportunities and commitment to delivering shareholder value.”
Stein Mart also declared a special dividend, for $5 a share, as its expanded its credit facility with Wells Fargo.
Late Wednesday, Zumiez Inc. said that its January comps increased 12.3 percent, nearly twice the 6.3 percent boost expected by analysts and coming against a 7.6 percent decline in January 2014.
However, The Buckle Inc., its teen retailing rival among the remaining stores still reporting comps on a monthly basis, posted a 0.8 percent increase, below the 4.2 percent gain expected. The January performance left Buckle’s comps up 1.1 percent for the fourth quarter but flat for the fiscal year.
Gap Inc. will report its final comps of the fiscal year on Monday as part of a quarterly update. It will resume reporting at the close of the markets on the Thursday following the end of the fiscal month in March.
Cato Corp.’s 14 percent January comp gain came against expectations of a 6 percent increase.
Earlier this week, Macy’s Inc. and Kohl’s Corp. provided updates on their fourth-quarter sales. Macy’s comps rose 2.5 percent in the quarter, at the low end of its guidance, and Kohl’s reported a 3.7 percent quarterly increase, prompting the retailer to both raise and narrow its Q4 earnings estimates.