Retailers post mixed sales results for January

By Anne D'Innocenzio

AP Retail Writer

NEW YORK (AP) -- Retailers reported mixed sales results for January in a sign that American shoppers are continuing to be cautious about when and where they spend their money in the shaky economy.

Of the 12 merchants reporting monthly sales this week, the number of those who beat estimates and those who missed expectations was about even, according to a Thursday morning tally by Thomson Reuters.

Costco and Target were among those reporting sales gains that were above Wall Street expectations, while Macy's and Dillard's posted figures that were below analysts' estimates.

"It was as tough month as retailers battled holiday hangover, lack of incentive to shop and mild winter that killed outerwear clearance," said Ken Perkins, president of RetailMetrics Inc., a research firm.

January typically is when shoppers are lured into stores by the big discounts retailers offer on winter clothes and shoes so they can make room for spring merchandise. But this January, consumer confidence fell over renewed worries about the economy after surging during the holiday shopping season. Also, the unseasonably warm weather made markdowns on down coats and furry boats unappealing to shoppers.

As a result, many clothing chains posted sales at stores open at least a year -- an indicator of a retailer's health -- that were lackluster. Stores that offer more of a variety in merchandise seemed to fare better.

The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. reported a 3.5 percent decrease in revenue at stores opened at least a year. Tony Buccina, Vice Chairman, president of merchandising, blamed the poor performance to a mild winter.

"January sales were below expectations due to the continuation of the milder weather in our markets, which had an adverse impact on sales of cold-weather merchandise and comprised the majority of our sales shortfall," he said.

Department-store chains Dillard's also had disappointing results. The retailer's sales were unchanged for January compared with a year ago. Analysts had expected a 2.0 percent gain. It competitor Macy's had a 2.4 percent increase, which was below the 3.5 percent increase that analysts had expected.

However, Macy's raised its guidance for the fourth quarter -- which did not include January -- and for the full year. The Cincinnati-based company said it has benefited from a move to tailor its merchandise to local markets.

"The fourth quarter was our strongest in many years, and demonstrated the continued progress in improving the fundamentals in our business at Macy's and Bloomingdale's," said Terry J. Lundgren, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Macy's.

Meanwhile, Costco continued its winning streak, reporting Thursday that revenue at stores open at least a year climbed 8 percent in January, helped by higher gas prices. Results topped expectations. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had predicted a 6.1 percent increase.

Target Corp. says its revenue at stores open at least a year rose 4.3 percent in January. The discount chain says sales were strong throughout the month across the U.S. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected a smaller 2.1 percent increase.

The company said in a recording that some of its strongest performers were shoes, health care products and boys' and girls' clothing. Some of the weaker categories included electronics and books.

Published: Fri, Feb 3, 2012