CHICAGO – Luxury and teen-oriented retailers on Thursday reported better-than-expected April sales, while discount chains sputtered as record-high gasoline prices and unusually chilly weather curbed consumer spending.
Neiman Marcus Group Inc. (search), Nordstrom Inc. (JWN) and Macy's and Bloomingdale's owner Federated Department Stores Inc. (FD) all turned in strong results, powered by demand for designer clothing and handbags, jewelry and shoes.
Neiman Marcus and Federated both raised their quarterly earnings forecasts.
The Standard & Poor's retailing index edged up 0.8 percent, with Federated's stock up 5.5 percent and Nordstrom 3.3 percent higher.
Overall, sales at stores open at least a year — a key retail measure known as same-store sales — rose 2.0 percent, slightly above expectations for a 1.9 percent increase, according to research firm Retail Metrics.
That was the smallest monthly increase since November. Some 53 percent of retailers beat expectations, while 44 percent missed forecasts.
Analysts had widely forecast anemic sales as gasoline prices soared well above $2 per gallon in April, pinching household budgets and restraining sales of discretionary items. Unusually cold weather that brought late-April snowstorms to parts of the U.S. Midwest also hurt demand for summer merchandise like clothing and garden equipment.
"For many people there isn't that much money left over after they fill the gas tank," said Kurt Barnard, president of consultants Retail Forecasting Group."
Steep gasoline prices were a boon to Costco Wholesale Corp. (COST) and BJ's Wholesale Corp. (BJ), both of which have gas stations at many of their U.S. stores. BJ's April same-store sales jumped 8.4 percent, well above expectations, while Costco's rose 8 percent.
Bentonville, Arkansas-based Wal-Mart (search) said April same-store sales rose 0.9 percent, near the middle of its forecast and roughly in line with Wall Street expectations.
Same-store sales at its namesake discount stores were up just 0.1 percent — the smallest gain since August — while its Sam's Club warehouse division posted a healthier 4.9 percent increase, thanks in part to its gas stations.
Wal-Mart said sales should perk up in May, and forecast U.S. same-store sales growth of 2 percent to 4 percent for the month.
Target said same-store sales rose just 1.3 percent, missing Wall Street expectations for a 2.3 percent gain. However, Target forecast a stronger 3 percent to 5 percent same-store sales gain for May, and said it still expected strong profit growth for the quarter.
Ultra-discounter Family Dollar Stores Inc. (FDO) blamed a "difficult" economy and steep energy prices for disappointing April same-store sales growth of just 0.9 percent and warned of weaker-than-expected profits for the rest of its fiscal year.
Its shares dropped 6.2 percent, making them among the day's biggest decliners on the New York Stock Exchange.
Results were mixed among mid-tier department stores, with J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (JCP) reporting a strong 3.6 percent same-store sales increase and raising its quarterly earnings forecast, while Dillard's Inc. (DDS) said same-store sales fell 6 percent, much worse than expected.
Limited Brands Inc. (LTD), which owns its namesake clothing chain as well as Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works, reported a 4 percent drop in April same-store sales, well below analysts' expectations for a 0.1 percent decline, according to a Reuters survey.
Gap Inc. also missed expectations with a 5 percent drop in same-store sales, and forecast first-quarter earnings that were below Wall Street expectations.
But upscale department store Nordstrom recorded a strong 6.9 percent increase in April same-store sales, easily topping analysts' expectations for a 3.9 percent increase.
Neiman Marcus' same-store sales jumped 14.2 percent, more than double what analysts had expected, while Federated's rose a better-than-expected 2.8 percent.