Shift of Easter to March takes bite out of discounter’s sales in April

New York City Top discounters came in slightly below Wall Street expectations as a shift in the Easter holiday from April to March took an impact on sales.

The TJX Cos. said same-store sales rose 4% in April, not as high as the 4.4% increase analysts had expected.

The discounter said that although customer transactions increased, cool, wet weather, particularly in the New England region, held down spring apparel sales. It has started to see improvements as the weather has warmed up.

Carol Meyrowitz, president and CEO, The TJX Cos., stated: “Our 4% consolidated comparable-store sales increase in April was at the high end of our expectations. Looking at April and March combined, which neutralizes the impact of pre-Easter selling shifting into March this year from April last year, comparable-store sales increased by a very strong 9%.”

For the 13-week period ended May 1, sales increased 15% to $5.0 billion, with same-store sales up 9%. TJX now anticipates first-quarter net income at the high end of its previously announced forecast.

Costco Wholesale Club reported that for April, same-store sales rose 11%, as net sales rose 13% to $5.83. The same-store sales reflected increases of 6% in the United States and 29%. Its results narrowly missed Wall Street expectations.

The wholesale club operator said excluding inflation in gasoline prices and strengthening foreign currencies, same-store sales in April rose 4%.

At Target Corp., same-store sales fell an unexpectedly sharp 5.9% in April. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected a smaller 2.3% drop. Total sales fell nearly 4% to $4.29 billion.

"We believe a greater-than-expected portion of sales that otherwise would have occurred in April were pulled forward into March," said CEO Gregg Steinhafel in a statement on Thursday.

The chain said in the combined March and April period same-store sales rose 3%, stronger than any monthly period since April 2008. Target says its total sales in April fell nearly 4% to $4.29 billion, from $4.45 billion last year.

But the discount retailer says higher-margin categories are performing well and expects first-quarter net income will at least meet analyst expectations.

In other April same-store sales results:

-- BJ's Wholesale Club’s sales jumped 4.6% in April, as customers filled their tanks at the retailer's gas pumps. Analysts expected an increase of 6%.

The calendar shift that moved Easter back to March cut about 2.5% off comparable merchandise sales, the company said. Food sales rose by about 3%, while general merchandise sales slipped by roughly the same amount.

Total sales in April rose 9.5% to $787 million. Sales increased in the second and third week of the month, with the second week showing the highest gain, BJ's said. The Easter shift was reflected in a drop in sales in the first week of the month.

For the quarter ended May 1, total revenue rose 13% to $2.55 billion. Wall Street was expecting $2.6 billion.

-- Fred's sales rose 0.6%, better than the loss analysts predicted. The chain's total sales for the month grew 1% to $137.6 million.

For the full first quarter, Fred's same-store sales were up 2.2% and total revenue climbed 3% to $471.7 million.

CEO Bruce Efird said higher consumer spending produced the April increase in Fred's revenue at stores open at least a year. And he said the company is positioned well to meet the upper end of its first-quarter earnings forecast.

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