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Retail sales: you can't blame it all on China

Two large retailers reported in the last 24 hours, and the only good news is you can't blame much of the bad news on China or Brazil.

But they tried.

In the case of Macy's, in theory, you can't blame it at all on China. It is one of the very few U.S. companies that gets 100 percent of their sales in the United States.

I said 100 percent in the U.S.A. Not China. Not Canada. Not Europe. Not Brazil. That's 100 percent in the U.S.A.

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Still, Macy's tried to blame much of its disappointing results on China, though indirectly. Second-quarter results were expected to be poor, but they were even worse than expected. Comparable-store sales were down 1.5 percent.

CEO Terry Lundgren said "the strong U.S. dollar has led to significantly lower international tourist spending."

That's right. Even with 100 percent of the sales in the U.S., the retailer got hit because the Chinese and Brazilians weren't coming to New York to shop.

Seriously. Macy's blames it on Chinese and Brazilian tourists, and the port strike, and weak spending in apparel in general.

Macy's held full-year guidance flat at $4.70 to $4.80 a share. Consensus is $4.63 a share, though there is a gain on the sale of a Brooklyn store. Excluding that sale, guidance is lower, some estimate by $0.45 a share.

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The other retailer to report, Fossil Group, has a relatively small exposure to China:

Fossil revenues by country (source: Factset):

  • United States: 45 percent
  • Germany: 18 percent
  • China: 7 percent
  • Japan: 3 percent
  • Other: 37 percent

Still, Fossil reported second-quarter sales fell short of expectations and earnings for the full year were reduced to $4.80 to $5.60 a share, well below the prior outlook of $5.25 to $6.05 a share.

What happened?

1) A significant slowdown in sales in Europe, notably in the U.K. and Italy. Even Germany was flat. This was a surprise and will add to speculation that the European "recovery" has been weak.

2) The impact of the Apple Watch.

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Reports that Apple Watch sales have been below expectations may be true, but even with lower-than-expected sales it appears to be enough to be disrupting the "traditional" watch market, at least for Fossil.

Fossil (constant dollars):

  • Watches: flat
  • Leathers: up 9 percent
  • Jewelry: up 11 percent

An equal problem has been the strong dollar, the bane of multinational companies this reporting season. Second quarter revenues for Fossil were down 4 percent, but taking out the effect of the strong dollar revenues were actually up 2 percent.

Think about that. A six percentage point swing on revenues, just on currency. That is huge.

Given shifting tastes in consumer demand, uncertain growth in Europe and China, and the strength of the dollar, it's little wonder that forecasting earnings for global retailers has become a very difficult proposition.

  • Bob Pisani

    A CNBC reporter since 1990, Bob Pisani covers Wall Street from the floor of the New York Stock Exchange.

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