Just three months ago, disappointing department store earnings sparked an intense sell-off in retail stocks.
In the week following each of their financial reports, Macy's, Kohl's, Nordstrom and J.C. Penney shaved a combined $3.71 billion from their market capitalization. While Kohl's, Nordstrom and Penney's have recouped losses since then, Macy's still trades nearly 18 percent lower than when the company issued first-quarter results.
This week, Wall Street is waiting in anticipation to see if that same scenario will play out again. Macy's, Kohl's, Nordstrom and Dillard's are scheduled to report earnings on Thursday, with J.C. Penney's results out Friday morning.
Early signs are hinting at negative to flat same-store sales across the board for department stores, JPMorgan analyst Matthew Boss said in a note to clients. But his firm also has increased comparable sales estimates for Kohl's, Dillard's and Nordstrom this quarter, expecting store traffic to be a tad better.
Boss added that he expects cost savings to be a "theme" for department stores this quarter. That would be a welcome change from the retail woes that started 2017. These retailers are just begging for a new narrative.
Nobody is questioning that department stores remain the "laggards" of the retail world, GlobalData Retail managing director Neil Saunders told CNBC in an interview. "There are no real dynamics or shifts to suggest that the tide is turning in their favor."
That being said, "many of those [chains] reporting are up against very weak comparatives from the prior year, which may make declines less harsh," Saunders pointed out.
Improved weather, holidays like Mother's Day and Father's Day, and an end to delayed tax refunds should help this quarter's results come in better than last, for most, Telsey Advisory Group's Dana Telsey told CNBC. Among the department stores, she expects Penney's, Nordstrom and Kohl's to be able to beat Street estimates.
JPMorgan's Boss said he thought that each month of the second quarter was better than the prior month of the period for department stores, marking another encouraging sign.
But let's not get ahead of ourselves. All department store retailers are still expected to post same-store sales declines this quarter, according to data from Thomson Reuters. Although the first quarter was tough, "being better than awful" this go-round doesn't make everything good again, GlobalData Retail's Saunders said.
According to Thomson Reuters analyst Jharonne Martis, Macy's same-store sales are expected to be the worst of the four and are forecast to drop 3.2 percent. In the second quarter of 2016, Macy's comps fell 2 percent.
Over the past three months, department stores have all been in the news both for better and for worse.
Nordstrom is reportedly running out of time to sign a deal to go private and has been
"Nordstrom's update will be overshadowed by speculation over whether or not the company will go private," Saunders said. "The market will seek a more substantive update on management's position — although they may well be left wanting."
Macy's is in the midst of growing its off-price brand, Macy's Backstage. New to the job, Macy's CEO Jeff Gennette is still figuring out how the company will be able to compete with other off-prices players like T.J. Maxx and Ross.
Smaller chain Dillard's marks the latest target by activists for its real estate — similar pressure that Macy's had also been under from hedge fund Starboard Value.
Meantime, analysts are looking to learn more about how Under Armour merchandise has been selling at Kohl's since the two formed a partnership. And J.C. Penney iwas scheduled to close 138 stores on July 31.