Shift in Easter, wet weather put a damper on April sales at Kohl’s, J.C. Penney and other chains

New York City An early Easter that shifted some business into March and rainy weather in the second half of the month took a toll on retailers’ sales in April. Still, many chains said combined results in March and April that stripped out the Easter impact showed solid consumer demand. A host of retailers, including Kohl's Department Stores and Macy’s, boosted their first-quarter outlook Thursday as revenue climbed faster than expected.

Overall, retailers' April sales rose 0.5%, missing estimates of a 1.7% increase, with about 70% of retailers falling short, Thomson Reuters data showed. Combining results for both March and April, however, sales rose 4.8%, stronger than trends seen in both January and February and the best since November 2007, Thomson Reuters data showed.

“Consumers took a breather in April," said Ken Perkins, president of RetailMetrics, a research firm, in an Associated Press report. "But overall, retailers have to be pleased with the spring selling season."

But Perkins added that the consumer spending recovery is still likely to be slow amid persistent high unemployment and tight credit.

According to the International Council of Shopping Centers Index of 30 retailers, the key measure was up 0.8%, compared with a 2.7% decline a year ago. For the March and April months combined, the index rose 4.9%, well above the average pace of 4.1% since January.

"The real takeaway is that profitability continued to improve on the healthy underlying demand," said Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at ICSC.

Discounters, including Costco Wholesale Corp. and BJ's Wholesale Club, were among the biggest winners in April. Macy's also had solid gains. Teen merchants continue to struggle with declines.

At Macy's, same-store sales edged up 1.1% in April, beating the decline analysts predicted. Total revenue for the four-week period ending May 2 rose 2.8% to $1.74 billion.

For the first quarter, Macy’s same-store sales rose 5.5%, above the company's guidance. Total revenue rose 7.3% to $5.58 billion.

Kohl’s said its same -store sales decreased 7.7% in April and total sales decreased 5%, which the chain attributed to the timing of Easter and grand-opening events at Kohl’s Department Stores.

Total sales for the four-week month ending May 1 were $1.13 billion, compared with $1.2 billion a year earlier. For the quarter and year-to-date, total sales increased 10.9% to $4.04 billion, and same-store sales increased 7.4%.

Kohl’s chief executive Kevin Mansell said Kohl’s executives expected the decrease in April sales.

Kohl’s e-commerce business in April continued “to generate significant growth, achieving a 50% increase in sales in the first quarter,” Mansell said.

From a regional perspective, the Southeast and South Central regions led the company for the month. Footwear, women’s and men’s merchandise achieved the strongest comparable-store sales performance during the month.

In other same-store sales results for April:

  • J.C. Penney said its sales fell 3.3%, with overall sales falling 3.7% to $1.22 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected a 0.8% same-store sales fall. The retailer hiked its first-quarter earnings view on better-than-expected gross margins.

  • Bon-Ton Stores said its stores fell 5% in April, hurt by the shift of Easter sales into March this year. Total revenue for the four weeks ended May 1 fell 5.2% to $189.1 million, from $199.4 million in the prior-year period. For the quarter ended May 1, revenue in stores open at least one year rose 3% while total revenue rose 2.6% to $661.4 million.

  • Saks’ sales rose 3.2% in April. Analysts had expected a rise of 4.4%. Saks said total sales for the month of April rose 3.4%.

  • Dillard’s sales dropped 5%, worse than Wall Street had expected.

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