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Friday, February 8, 2013 - Page updated at 04:30 p.m.
Shoppers snagging discounts heat up January retail sales
By Matt Townsend
Macy’s, Gap and Target led U.S. retailers to the biggest monthly same-store sales gain in more than a year as shoppers snapped up discounted merchandise that chains were clearing out after the holidays.
Seattle-based Nordstrom said Thursday that sales at stores open at least one year climbed 11.4 percent last month. That topped the 6 percent analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected.
Costco Wholesale said same-store sales gained 4 percent, excluding the effects of changing gas and currency prices. Analysts had projected 4.1 percent.
Macy’s saw sales at stores open at least a year climb 12 percent, surpassing the average 5 percent forecast from analysts by Retail Metrics.
Gap, the largest U.S. apparel chain, boosted sales 8 percent, doubling the average estimate of 4 percent. Discounter Target posted a gain of 3.1 percent, above projections of 1.7 percent.
Same-store sales for the more than 20 companies tracked by Retail Metrics surged 4.5 percent, the biggest gain since September 2011.
Shoppers were buoyed by rising housing values and the climbing U.S. stock market.
“After three or four years of tough recessionary pressures, consumers and retailers aren’t fatigued,” said Paul Swinand, an analyst for Chicago-based Morningstar. The month’s results bode well for the spring shopping season, he said.
A report Thursday added credence to that sentiment as the Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index for the period ended Feb. 3 rose, the first gain in five weeks.
Analysts surveyed by Retail Metrics estimated same-store sales would rise 2.8 percent last month after a gain of 2.6 percent in December.
Thursday was the last monthly sales report for four major retailers, as Target, Macy’s, Nordstrom and Kohl’s will now provide same-store sales on a quarterly basis.
The decline in companies reporting monthly same-store results continues defections that began about five years ago, when sales started to decline heading into the recession, said Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics.
With each month and another negative number, many retailers decided reporting wasn’t worthwhile because it focused investors too much on short-term results and created volatility in stock prices, he said.
“They have forever moaned about it being a pain in the rear,” Perkins said. The reduction in information is “unfortunate for investors.”
Next month fewer than 20 chains will post same-store sales, down from a peak of 60 in the middle of last decade, Perkins said. The largest remaining chain will be Costco followed by Walgreen, Gap and Limited.
“Some choose not to do it because of the nuisance factor, and it’s one more thing you have to explain, when you are already giving out quarterly results,” said Costco Chief Financial Officer Richard Galant. “At the end of the day, it is useful information, and we’ve done it for a long time.”
Chains that have already dropped the practice include Wal-Mart Stores, J.C. Penney and Abercrombie & Fitch. Department-store chains Dillard’s and Saks also have stopped reporting monthly.
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