PLUS OR MINUS: MARCH COMPS DRIVEN BY TRENDS

Byline: Jennifer Weitzman

NEW YORK — Trend-right Chico’s FAS, Pacific Sunwear and Hot Topic on Tuesday all posted positive sales results in March, while American Eagle Outfitters reported a poor month, apparently missing out so far on the hot looks of the season.
AEO comps, including the Bluenotes/Thriftys and American Eagle divisions, were down 1.3 percent. American Eagle stores landed flat while Bluenotes/Thriftys, which operates in Canada, was down 15.9 percent.
Retail analysts said they believed AEO lost out in March due to a lack of peasant/bohemian-inspired tops. The Warrendale, Pa.-based youth-oriented retailer also said due to lower-than-expected sales in February and March, it currently expects first-quarter earnings to be in the range of 14 to 17 cents per share, far lower than last year’s 21 cents. Analysts on average were looking for 21 cents for the quarter, according to First Call.
Fort Myers, Fla.-based Chico’s FAS posted an 11.7 percent increase in March comps. Chico’s said it believes that the Easter weekend shift to March this year from April last year contributed to no more than 1 to 1.5 percent of the total March comp figure. More likely, the company said, the comp was driven by a second catalog that did not exist last year and television commercials.
Anaheim, Calif.-based PacSun reported a 7.5 percent comp increase last month, exceeding expectations and crediting the earlier Easter for the gain. By division, there was a 8.4 percent increase at PacSun and a 0.9 percent decrease at d.e.m.o. Last year, comps were a negative 4.1 percent.
Total sales for the month came in at $71.1 million, a 23.3 percent gain. Juniors’ improved over 20 percent, led by pants, knits, T-shirts and tanks. The company expects April comps to be flat and remains comfortable with consensus estimates of 13 cents for the first quarter. Last year, the company reported EPS of 11 cents.
Jennifer Black at Wells Fargo Securities raised her first-quarter revenue estimates to $162.9 million from $161.6 million and anticipates healthy year-over-year revenue and EPS growth.
Hot Topic said comps rose 1.2 percent in March, primarily due to apparel and music licensed merchandise, but were offset in part by negative comps in certain accessory categories.
The retailer, based in City of Industry, Calif., said it’s still pleased with Torrid, the plus-size teen chain, which exceeded plans again in March. The firm also remains comfortable with consensus estimates of 11 cents for the first quarter and $1.04 for the year, compared with last year’s 10 cents and 86 cents, respectively.
Also Tuesday, Nautica Enterprises said it expects to report a fourth-quarter loss of 25 to 26 cents per share and 49 to 50 cents for fiscal 2002. The company cited disappointing sell-throughs at department stores and higher markdown allowances and returns than anticipated as well as $9 million in special tax charges.

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