Specialty retailers post gains

New York City Many specialty retailers posted higher December sales and raised profit forecasts as they carefully managed promotions to attract holiday shoppers.

Aeropostale, Zumiez, and Limited Brands were among the chains that raised their quarterly earnings outlooks. The moves suggested promotions were "relatively tame compared with last year and that retailers were able to hold onto margins," said Ken Perkins, president, Retail Metrics, in a Reuters report.

Aeropostale, a strong performer during the downturn, said its December store-sales rose 10%. On average, analysts had expected an increase of just 3.1%. Total net sales for the five weeks ended Jan. 2 rose 17% to $460.8 million.

American Eagle Outfitters said its same-store sales rose a better-than-expected 7% in December, and the company improved margins as it stuck to stronger pricing. Total sales for the five weeks ended Jan. 2 rose 9% to $538.9 million.

Analysts had forecast a gain of just 2.3%, according to Thomson Reuters.

Not all retailers reported gains in December. Abercrombie & Fitch, which has struggled throughout the recession, said its same-store sales dropped 19% in December, worse than analysts had expected. Net sales for the five-week period ended Jan. 2, were down $482.5 million an 11% decrease.

Hot Topic, which reported a deeper-than-expected 10.9% decline, and lowered its quarterly earnings outlook as a result.

In other December sales results:

Gap said same-store sales rose 2%, with the strongest results at its lower-priced Old Navy chain. Its results were slightly below expectations. Total sales for the five weeks ended Jan. 2 rose 5% to $2.02 billion from $1.93 billion last year.

Sales in stores open at least one year rose 1% at Gap stores, fell 3% at Banana Republic and rose 7% at Old Navy. Internationally, same-store sales fell 1%.

  • Limited Brands’ sales fell 2%, steeper than analysts had expected. But the company said its sales so far in the fourth quarter are better than it initially expected and raised its guidance.

Total sales for the five weeks ended Jan. 2 rose nearly 1% to $1.66 billion from $1.64 billion a year ago.

Children's Place Retail Stores said a surge in online sales and improved results at its domestic stores helped lift its same-store sales by 4%. Analysts had predicted a 4.8% decline. Total sales for the five weeks ended Jan. 2 grew 10%  to $224.4 million.

The retailer said online sales jumped 54% in December.

Urban Outfitters’ same-store sales rose 5%, with its Anthropologie and Free People locations doing better than its name-brand stores. Total sales in November and December rose 16% to $452 million.

By division, holiday sales at Anthropologie stores rose 10%, compared with 8% at Free People locations and 1% at Urban Outfitters stores, the company said.

  • Zumiez posted a 0.3% increase in same-store sales. Analysts had forecast a 6.4% decline.

  • At Wet Seal, same-store sales  fell 4.6%, better than the 5.6% decline analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters predicted.

  • Cato Corp.’s same-store sales were up 7%. The company reported sales for the five weeks ended Jan. 2, of $104.1 million, an 8% increase over last year.

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