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Storms Spare Florida Retailers, but Comps Outlook Weakens

The impact of Hurricane Charley and Tropical Storm Bonnie on the Southeast is expected to hurt August sales at Federated and Neiman’s.

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ATLANTA — This time, the weather really is having an impact.

Retailers generally escaped any major physical damage from the weekend storms and reported busy stores on Sunday and Monday as Floridians found respite in shopping malls. Still, Bonnie and Charley, the respective tropical storm and hurricane that dealt a deadly blow to parts of Florida and the Southeastern U.S. last week, are expected to depress August same-store sales by up to 2 percent at Federated Department Stores and the Neiman Marcus Group, as well as at BJ’s Wholesale Club, according to Deborah Weinswig, analyst at Citigroup Smith Barney.

In a research note, Weinswig said she expects August comps at Federated, Neiman and BJ’s to be impacted by the two storms, while discounters are expected to show better results as “consumers purchased consumables in anticipation of the storms.”

Weinswig is basing her estimate on an analysis of the exposure of these three retailers to Bonnie and Charley. She said the number of stores exposed to the storms was 15 percent for Federated and Neiman Marcus and 12 percent for BJ’s. This compares with exposures of 6 percent for Target Corp. and 5 percent for Wal-Mart Stores and J.C. Penney.

Weinswig’s analysis does have a silver lining: She expects strong selling in early August to “mask some of the weakness as a result of the storms.”

On Monday, the hardest-hit areas in Florida were sorting through the destruction caused by Hurricane Charley. State officials estimate $11 billion in damages. Punta Gorda and Port Charlotte seemed to take the brunt of what Charley dished out. As of late Monday afternoon, one million people were still without power.

On the retail front, companies were affected in different ways by the hurricane. About one-third of Simon Properties’ 35 Florida malls were in the projected path of the hurricane and closed early either Thursday or Friday afternoon. With the exception of three centers, all reopened Saturday morning.

Remaining closed Monday, still without electricity, was Port Charlotte Town Center in Port Charlotte, Fla., near Sarasota. The mall sustained no major damage, though a spokeswoman said some skylights were blown out and landscaping was affected. The center is anchored by Burdine’s-Macy’s, Dillard’s, J.C. Penney, Beall’s and Sears, with 115 mall stores.
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