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A Blizzard of Declines: Weather, War Worries Sink February Comps

February same-store sales came in below plan and, thanks to inclement weather for much of the month, below year-ago levels, too.

A&F’s Hollister nameplate achieved a double-digit comp increase despite its big brother’s woes, and women’s comps were positive company-wide. Despite difficult selling conditions, A&F said it maintained its nonpromotional stance for spring, resulting in higher average selling prices and margins last month. It reiterated First Call’s earnings-per-share guidance for the first and second quarters of 25 cents and 34 cents, respectively.

At AE, comps fell a whopping 18.5 percent at Bluenotes/Thriftys and 7 percent at U.S. stores. Women’s comps declined in the low-single digits. Key items were graphic T-shirts, denim, skirts, woven shirts and underwear.

While chief financial officer Laura Weil noted that monthly performance was hurt by the presence of about 60 percent of its comp base in the recent Snow Belt, she added that stores outside of it fared better and those in warm-weather areas enjoyed comps in the high-single digits.

Similarly, Arnold B. Zetcher, chairman, president and chief executive of Talbots, said in a statement: "Our total February performance was significantly impacted by adverse weather that affected more than 60 percent of our stores, resulting in approximately 500 store closings." Talbots, which operates 894 stores, weathered an 11.7 percent comp drop last month and expects first-quarter earnings to fall below last year’s levels.



DEPARTMENT STORES

Business was so tough in February that even perennial comp pacesetter Kohl’s Corp. posted a 4.6 percent comparable-store sales decline.

Kohl’s was up not only against blustery conditions, but also tough comparisons from a year ago, when an early break in spring weather drove comps up 14.4 percent. "Our inventory is well-positioned with a significant amount of new spring content and new brands that are being introduced and expanded throughout the store," said Larry Montgomery, ceo, in a statement. "We are confident that we will see acceleration in apparel sales with the onset of spring weather."

Federated Department Stores Inc. posted a 6.8 percent drop, while The May Department Stores Co. absorbed an 8.9 percent decrease.

In the national chains, J.C. Penney Co. Inc.’s department stores comped down 2.1 percent, with fine jewelry, driven by Valentine’s Day sales, and home coming up with the best results. Sears, Roebuck & Co., which was forced to close about 130 stores and key distribution centers over Presidents’ Day weekend, saw its domestic same-store sales fall 9.4 percent. Soft-line comps in the firm’s full-line stores fell by a percentage in the low-double digits, while women’s and men’s were down in the high-single digits.
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