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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.

Federated Department Stores Inc.’s comparable-store sales dipped 6.5 percent last month. However, the parent of Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s maintained its first-quarter profit guidance of 14 to 19 cents a share, even though April sales are now expected to be lower than previously projected.

With its 5.5 percent comp retreat below plan, J.C. Penney Co. Inc. pulled down its first-quarter earnings expectations to 18 to 23 cents a share, versus 29 cents in year-ago period. Earlier in the quarter, profits were pegged to be in the low-30-cent range.

Thanks to a stronger showing in its home improvement category, Sears, Roebuck & Co.’s 3.1 percent comp drop was better than expected. The firm’s full-line stores comped down by a percentage in the mid-single digits, while softlines were down by low-double digits for the month. Women’s same-store sales slid by high-single digits, while men’s were down in the mid-single digits. April same-store sales are slated for a mid-single-digit drop, which would make it the firm’s 20th consecutive monthly drop.

Comps at Dillard’s Inc. decreased 12 percent in March. Saks Inc.’s total same-store sales slid 3.8 percent, including a 0.2 percent dip at its department store group and an 8.6 percent fall at Saks Fifth Avenue.

The Neiman Marcus Group Inc. posted a 0.5 percent comp drop, while Nordstrom Inc.’s same-store sales were down 1.7 percent.

Declines also defined the regional department stores in March, with The Elder-Beerman Stores Corp. down 2.9 percent, Gottschalks Inc. off 6.4 percent and The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. down 8.4 percent. Stage Stores Inc. endured a 15.6 percent comp drop, which prompted a reduction in first-quarter earnings projections to a range of $13.8 million to $14.6 million. Previously, the firm said income could go as high as $16.5 million.



MASS MERCHANTS

Even retailers with broad product assortments, high value quotients and wide customer bases struggled against the calendar, war and economy last month.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.’s total U.S. comparable-store sales rose 0.7 percent with a 0.3 percent increase at its namesake division and a 2.6 percent advance at Sam’s Club. The overall result came in below the firm’s plan for an increase in the low-single-digit range.
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