TIME WARP: In March 2010, Easter and spring weather came early, combining with signs of economic recovery to produce an average increase of 9 percent in same-store sales, the strongest level of the decade. This year, the holiday moved back 20 days, pushing much of the related commerce into April, and winter refused to budge. But with consumers feeling at least marginally better about their own finances, neither the calendar nor the thermometer could hold same-store sales below the break-even mark. Thomson Reuters expected a 0.7 percent drop in comparable-store sales but emerged from the flurry of retail data with a 1.7 percent increase in which 81.8 percent of the companies reporting beat expectations.
SPENDING GAP: No company fared worse in the March sales sweepstakes than Gap Inc., which had both the largest decline, 10 percent, and the most disappointing performance relative to expectations of a 7 percent drop. The company’s exposure in Japan, where it has more than 150 stores, is expected to subtract 4 cents from its first-quarter earnings per share, but much of the damage in March was domestic — in North America, Old Navy’s comps were down 12 percent, Gap’s 9 percent and Banana Republic’s 8 percent. International was off 9 percent. The company switched up the sales narrative with its concurrent announcements of a new credit facility and public bond offering.
DOUBLE-DIGIT DELEGATION: The month’s strongest performers were up against superb year-ago numbers but came through with high marks anyway. Limited Brands Inc.’s Victoria’s Secret unit managed to duplicate its 19 percent increase of one year ago, while Perfumania Inc. grew 15.9 percent versus a 12.1 percent advance in March 2010. Saks Inc. was especially strong in a robust luxury group, picking up 11.1 percent, versus 12.7 percent a year ago, while Neiman Marcus Inc. and Nordstrom Inc. added 8.8 percent and 5.1 percent, respectively.