U.S. Retail Sales Mixed

New York City The nation’s retailers got a little reprieve in February, as consumers returned to malls and stores after retrenching in recent months. But nonetheless, as retailers reported mixed February sales results Thursday, it was clear that consumers struggling with high gas and food prices and a slumping housing market aren’t splurging and are still focused on necessities.

Wal-Mart Stores said same-store sales at its U.S. stores rose 2.6% in February excluding fuel sales. The company cited continued strength in grocery, health-and-wellness and entertainment, and said apparel sales improved.

Costco Wholesale posted a 7% increase in February same-store sales, while BJ’s Wholesale Club reported a 5.9% increase. Both saw their sales helped by rising gasoline prices as both operate gas stations at many of their stores.

Another strong sector continues to be the teen apparel retailers. For example, Pacific Sunwear of California said same-store sales rose a better-than-expected 6% and Aeropostale rose a better-than-expected 7%.

Women’s apparel retailers, conversely, continued to disappoint. AnnTaylor Stores posted a 1.7% drop in same-store sales on Thursday, while Chico’s FAS said on Wednesday that same-store sales were down 14.9% at company-owned stores.

Limited Brands posted a 9% decline in same-store sales, though that was a little better than the average analyst forecast of a 10.7% decline.

Also in apparel, Gap Inc. posted a 6% decline in same-store sales, worse than the average 2.9% drop analysts estimated.

Department store operator The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. said Thursday that same-store sales fell 7.2% in February. Meanwhile, TJX Cos. said its same-store sales climbed 3%.

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