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.

"Spring seasonal merchandise experienced good sales when temperatures were warm," noted a spokeswoman on a recorded call. "However, unseasonably cool temperatures during portions of the month negatively impacted sales."

The "CNN effect," in which shoppers sit in front of their televisions hypnotized by war coverage, was also blamed.

Some warm-weather goods were selling, though, with swimwear outperforming the divisional average at Wal-Mart’s discount stores last month. Intimate apparel was also ahead of the curve.

In April, Wal-Mart is looking for its U.S. comps to rise by 5 to 7 percent.

Target Corp.’s overall same-store sales slid 2.3 percent for the month with a 1.3 percent slide at its discount division pulled down further by an 8 percent drop at Mervyn’s and a 6.1 percent compression at Marshall Field’s.

"Sales for the corporation continued to be somewhat below plan in March," noted chairman and chief executive Bob Ulrich, in a statement. "In light of our actual sales performance in February and March, and our outlook for April, we are unlikely to fully achieve our profit plan in the first quarter." Total comps slid 1.4 percent in February.

Wall Street had the firm pegged for earnings of 40 cents a share in the first quarter.

In April, the Target division is looking for a comp upswing of 4 to 6 percent, with the firm’s overall result trailing the lead division by 1 percentage point.

Other decliners in the realm of value retailing included TJX Cos. Inc. (down 2 percent), Ross Stores Inc. (5 percent), ShopKo Stores Inc. (8.4 percent), Value City Department Stores Inc. (4.4 percent) and Factory 2-U Stores Inc. (15.3 percent). Stein Mart Inc. said comps fell 12.9 percent in March and that earnings per share in the first quarter would range from 7 to 9 cents.
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