A Happy Spring: Apparel Stars as Stores’ Profits Soar in Qtr.

Fashion retailing was alive and well in the first quarter, with the likes of Wal-Mart, Target and Kohl’s posting solid earnings on robust apparel sales.

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For the three months ended April 30, Wal-Mart Inc. said net income grew to $2.17 billion, or 50 cents a diluted share, from $1.86 billion, or 42 cents, a year ago. Earnings beat analysts’ forecasts by a penny.

Total revenue for the period climbed to $65.44 billion from $57.22 billion last year, while net sales rose to $64.76 billion from $56.72 billion. As for comparable-store sales, Wal-Mart’s U.S. stores increased 5.9 percent and consolidated comps jumped 6.4 percent.

“Gross margin improvement for the quarter resulted from better apparel performance and the benefit of our global sourcing,” said chief executive officer Thomas Schoewe on a prerecorded call. “As [ceo H. Lee Scott] said, apparel had a solid quarter and inventory is in good shape. We had strong performances in activewear, intimates and infants.”

Much improved apparel sales also added to robust profit and sales gains at Target Corp. For the three months ended May 1, the Minneapolis-based discount chain said net earnings climbed to $438 million, or 48 cents, which exceeded Wall Street’s estimates by 1 cent. Last year, by comparison, the company recorded profits of $349 million, or 38 cents.

Total revenue for the quarter jumped to $11.59 billion from $10.32 billion a year ago, while net sales advanced 12.7 percent to $11.25 billion from $9.98 billion. Company-wide, comps improved 6.6 percent.

“We enjoyed strong sales growth in our apparel and seasonal categories, both of which generate stronger than average profitability,” said Target Stores president Gregg Steinhafel on a conference call with analysts and investors.

Kohl’s Corp., which has had its stumbles last year, posted first-quarter earnings that rose 2.5 percent on a 12.5 percent gain in sales. For the three months ended May 1, income was $113.8 million, or 33 cents a diluted share, versus $111 million, or 32 cents, in the same year-ago quarter. Sales jumped 12.4 percent to $2.38 billion from $2.12 billion. Comparable-store sales, however, dipped 0.1 percent.

During the Kohl’s conference call, management said sales of apparel and home merchandise were “good.” On the apparel front, shorts have not been a must-have item for shoppers. They have targeted T-shirts, capris and sandals instead. For fall, the company is gearing up for the introduction of apt. 9, a line the company describes as modern, sophisticated and clean. Also on the agenda for fall is a beauty line in partnership with Estée Lauder.
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