Retail Gloom Deepens in January

New York City As shoppers continued to focus on necessities, many of the nation’s retailers posted sharp sales declines in January. Although January is considered the least important month of a retailer's sales calendar, the figures only confirmed the deterioration of consumer spending.

The weakness crossed the spectrum of retailing, from department store chains to specialty apparel chains. Gap Inc., Wet Seal Inc., Stage Stores Inc. and Children's Place Retail Stores Inc. were among those posting deeper-than-expected sales declines.

There were some notable exceptions. Wal-Mart Stores reported sales that beat Wall Street's forecast. Teen retailer The Buckle reported a 14.7% rise in January same-store sales, and Aeropostale’s same-store sales increased 11% for the month.

Aeropostale’s same-store sales for the year-to-date period rose 20.6%. For the 52-week period, net sales spiked 27.8% to $792 million, from $619.9 million in the prior year.

A sales tally by Thomson Reuters found that 12 retailers it tracks beat expectations, while 11 missed projections. The tally is based on same-store sales. Macy's, which announced Monday that it would cut 7,000 jobs, reported a 4.5% decline in same-store sales, better than the 6.5% decline analysts had expected. The company also raised its fourth-quarter and full-year estimates for the year ended in January. Earlier in the week, Macy's said that earnings for the year that ends January 2010 will be well below analysts' expectations.

The pullback in consumer spending continues to take a harsh toll on the nation’s specialty apparel retailers. Among the results:

  • Stage Stores said its January same-store sales dropped 13.1% deeper than the 8.3% decline Wall Street anticipated.

  • Limited Brands Inc. posted a 9% decline, less severe than the 15.9% drop analysts expected.

  • Children's Place suffered an 11% decline, worse than the 2% drop Wall Street projected.

  • Wet Seal announced a 14.7% decline, deeper than the 11.8% analysts anticipated.

  • Gap Inc.’ same-store sales slid 23% in January, with softer results across its Banana Republic, Old Navy and namesake businesses. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected a same-store sales decline of 15.4%. International same-store sales were flat. Total sales for January fell 19% to $757 million.

For the fourth quarter, same-store sales slipped 14%, with total sales off 13% to $4.08 billion. Fiscal 2008 same-store sales fell 12%. Annual sales dipped 8% to $14.53 billion from $15.76 billion a year earlier. The results missed Wall Street's estimate of $14.62 billion.

Despite the dive, Gap raised its fiscal 2008 earnings forecast Thursday, crediting January cost-control efforts.

  • American Eagle Outfitters’ January same-store sales fell 22%, worse than expected. Total sales for the four weeks ended Jan. 31 fell 15% to $139 million.

  • Pacific Sunwear of California Inc. said Thursday that same-store sales fell 11%, a smaller drop than analysts expected.

  • Chico’s sales fell 10.9% in January, but that was a smaller drop than analysts had expected. Total sales for the four-week period ended Jan. 31 fell 3% to $91.4 million from $94.1 million last year.
 

Same-store sales for the quarter ended Jan. 31 fell 13% and total sales fell 9% to $373.4 million from $409.3 million.

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