Retailers reported mixed November same-store sales, with nearly half falling short of forecasts.
“The sales are soft for November, but frankly, going back the last several years, November has tended to be significantly weaker than December,” Robert Buchanan, retail analyst at A.G. Edwards, said on CNBC's "Morning Call." “While November is weak, I think we’ll get a better number for December.”
Of 51 retailers that have reported same-store sales -- or sales at stores open at least a year -- 48% missed estimates, 30% surpassed forecasts and about 4% were in line with expectations, according to a Thomson Financial report.
Same-stores sales for November are up 2.5% on average, slightly lower than Thomson’s estimate of 2.7%, but lower than last year’s 3.7% gain.
The figures look better when retail giant Wal-Mart , which posted disappointing results, is excluded: same-store sales were 4.6%, also slightly less than estimates, but better than last year’s 3.3%.
Department stores and teen/child retailers looked strong, though Wal-Mart confirmed that its same-stores sales fell 0.1% in November, their first monthly decline in more than a decade. The retailing behemoth also said it anticipated little improvement in December same-store sales – they cut estimates and now expect they’ll be flat to 1% higher -- as it struggled with disappointing demand for clothing and home decor.
Wal-Mart's performance "is an indicator that lower middle-income and lower income shoppers are metaphorically running out of gas,” Richard Hastings, senior retail analyst at Bernard Sands, told “CNBC’s Morning Call.” "In 2005, when the gas inflation was bad, that was really bad for them. Now, the home equity credit bubble popped and it’s really tough times. This is a big barometer that construction employment might be dipping very substantially, and I think that’s a place where they shop."
Retailers that posted sales that came in shy of estimates blamed warmer weather and difficult comparisons with last year’s comparisons due to the hurricane season.
On the other hand, those who posted strong comparisons claimed they experienced slow sales in the beginning of the month, but saw very strong consumer spending towards the end and during the Black Friday weekend, positioning them for a solid holiday sales season.
Despite Wal-Mart's problems, many other retailers do have hopes for a strong season. Sales during the Thanksgiving weekend rose a respectable 2.8%, according to the research firm ShopperTrak RCT Corp. Stores with a luxury bent have also benefited.
"Department stores that have a presence in the luxury market -- like Saks and Federated with Bloomingdale's and Macy’s -- those companies are doing fairly well," Jason Asaeda, retail analyst at Standard & Poor’s, told CNBC’s “Morning Call.” "People are drawn to better brands higher quality merchandise and are willing to spend a little extra on an aspirational luxury good."
Still, there are concerns about how confident consumers are going into the season. The latest measure of confidence by the Conference Board fell during November, and reports of job cuts and buyouts at companies including Pfizer and Ford Motor could make consumers even more uneasy.
"As I expected, this was probably going to be the most promotional holiday season (in terms of cutting prices) since 2002 with the exception of wealthier shoppers," Bernard Sands' Hastings told CNBC’s Morning Call. "If the weather trends too warm on the wrong days that could be bad also."
While there were some clear winners and losers, shares of several retailers were trading lower.
Here’s a quick look at how they did:
Target widened the growth gap with Wal-Mart, and its same-store sales have
now exceeded Wal-Mart's in 39 of the last 40 months. Target's sales rose 5.9%
Last month, Wal-Mart's same-store sales were up 0.5% while Target's rose 3.9%.
The bigger surprise for Wall Street was Wal-Mart's December forecast calling for same-store sales to be flat to up 1 percent. Analysts had said that the company would need at least a 2% gain in December to meet its fourth-quarter forecast for 1% to 2% same-store sales growth.
J.C. Penney said November same-store sales rose 1.4%, missing a Thomson estimate of 3.7%, while total sales for the period were up 3.3%.
Federated , owner of Macy's and Bloomingdale's department stores, said same-store sales rose 8.5% in November, exceeding its own forecast and surpassing Wall Street's 4.8% projection. It also raised its December sales forecast.
Nordstrom had a 5.4% gain in same-store sales, matching Wall Street forecasts.
Costco reported a 5% gain in same-store sales, below the 5.7% estimate.
Limited Brands had a 12% increase in same-store sales, exceeding the 7.8% estimate.
Teen retailers generally did well. Wet Seal had a 5.5% same-store
gain, beating the 4.0% estimate. But Bebe Stores' 5.8% gain fell
below the 7.9% estimate from Wall Street.
American Eagle Outfitters said Wednesday its same-store sales rose 14% in November from year-ago levels, boosted by a strong start to the
holiday shopping season. The results were in line with Wall Street's estimate
for a 14.8% gain.