Alibis Abound as Comp-Store Sales in March Lay a Big Egg

War worries, wintry weather and the late Easter proved undefeatable foes for March same-store sales, which finished below year-ago levels.

Few teen retailers shared PacSun’s success last month and the timing of Easter was often cited for shortfalls. "Comp sales were only negative during the fourth week of March, which last year was the week leading up to Easter and the peak week of the quarter," commented Betsy McLaughlin, president and chief executive officer of Hot Topic, which, as reported, endured a rare comp drop of 3.1 percent.

After progressing 3 percent in February, Abercrombie & Fitch’s comps retreated 10 percent in March, but the firm did report a decrease in promotional activity as it held to its first-quarter earnings guidance of 25 cents a share.

Meanwhile, Wet Seal faced hurdles greater than the Easter shift as it posted a 27.1 percent comp decline, better than the 31.5 percent decrease logged in February.

Checking in with a 14.7 percent comp drop, Gadzooks warned that, due to below-plan results during February and March and the pending clearance of all men’s merchandise, it now expects to report a loss of 30 to 40 cents a diluted share for the first quarter ending May 3.

Shrugging off the month’s many mitigating factors, Chico’s FAS said comps rose 12.4 percent in March and reiterated its first-quarter earnings estimates of 27 to 28 cents.

Talbots saw its comps increase 0.8 percent, better than expected. However, it said continued uncertainty and low levels of markdown inventory have led to caution about April comps and a lowering of first-quarter EPS guidance to 48 to 51 cents, versus 57 cents in the comparable quarter last year.

Elsewhere in the misses’ world, Ann Taylor said its comps dropped 8.2 percent, with AT stores down 9.2 percent and The Loft down 6.4 percent. Charming Shoppes fell 6 percent, with Lane Bryant and Fashion Bug stores’ 9 and 4 percent drops, respective, partially offset by Catherines’ 1 percent increase.


For department stores, March was a procession of declining same-store sales, interrupted only by Kohl’s Corp.’s uncharacteristically minute 0.4 percent advance.

The May Department Stores Co., parent of Lord & Taylor and Kaufmann’s, among others, registered an 11.4 percent same-store decrease for the month.
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