Retail Sales Reports Reveal Winners and Losers

Macy's shoppers
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Macy's shoppers

It's an active day in retail from monthly sales reports to acquisition news to earnings and commentary on the recent holiday season. For those keeping score, here's a quick retail roundup:

Same-Store Sales

Thomson Reuters Same-Store Sales Index for December came in up 4.5 percent for the 17 non-drugstore retailers it tracks on a monthly basis. That actual topped average analysts' expectations of an increase of 3.3 percent.

As the reports came in, many retailers reported they saw strong Black Friday sales, but then a notable sales lull.

But that's only the start of it. Here are the some other big takeaways from today's news.

Continued Strength in Off-Price

TJX and Ross Stores both saw sales at stores open at least 12 months rise 6 percent. Both beat estimates, and both raised quarterly forecasts.

TJX management said "once again, customer traffic drove the (same-store sales) increases at all divisions for the month."

Disappointment in Discount

Target's latest monthly same-store report was flat year-over-year. Wall Street expected an increase of 0.8 percent.

Food was the big-box discounter's best category. Many believe the discounter's holiday collection , a collaboration with Neiman Marcus and top designers, was largely a flop — far from the website-crashing success its Missoni collaboration was. Products in the collection are still available, with some discounted as much as 70 percent.

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"There was tremendous amount of excitement headed into the launch," a Target spokesperson told CNBC. "On Dec. 1, we saw a very robust turnout, online was on par with Black Friday. Millions have shopped the collection."

The spokesperson said Target would be reviewing what worked and didn't work, adding "we'll be looking at the nuances and see how they impacted overall performance as we move forward and look at new collaborations in 2013…we wanted the collection in stores throughout the holiday season and insure we had enough product."

Food also was Costco's strongest category, but contrary to Target, the wholesaler posted one of the strongest same- store sales reports, up 9 percent.

Family Dollar, which is not included in Thomson Reuters Index, said its December same-store sales rose 2.5 percent, but the holiday selling season proved to be more challenging than it expected as customers faced increasing financial uncertainty.

In a note to investors, Guggenheim's John Heinbockel said "we are encouraged by the consumables comp, the initial productivity rate, and the likely return to 10-percent plus EBIT (earnings before interest and taxes) growth in second half 2013. We would remain buyers, especially on today's 5 percent to 10 percent selloff."

A Mixed Bag for Specialty Retail

Limited posted a rare miss, up 3 percent versus the 4.5 percent estimated growth. The retailer, unlike some in specialty apparel, faced a tough comparison. Last December, Limited's same-store sales grew 11 percent. Bath & Body Works same-store sales rose 7 percent, though Victoria's Secret's same-store sales were flat year-over-year.

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Gap again posted a same-store sales beat, with strength from its Old Navy division. The retailer's international same- store sales were again down 6 percent, on the back of a same-store sales decline of 6 percent in December 2011 as well.

The company also announced it planned to buy boutique luxury retailer Intermix for $130 million.

Jefferies analyst Randy Konik said he likes the deal, as Gap's current stock price doesn't adequately reflect the deal's future potential. However, UBS analyst Roxanne Meyer said "aside from using stores to grow Piperlime, we don't readily see how Gap will leverage a core competency" from the deal.

BMO John Morris wrote: "We think the deal is a positive for Gap. Although small, Intermix provides an entry for Gap into the luxury market. Additionally, it opens up better access to emerging fashion trends that Gap could potentially translate to its existing brands, which could help the company compete more strongly against fast-fashion competitors such as H&M and Zara."

Department Store Disappointment

While Kohl's same-store sales gain of 3.4 percent, beat expectations, sales came late in the season, and thus at a deeper discount than planned. Kohl's lowered its fourth-quarter earnings guidance by a wide margin.

Competitor Macy's same-store sales fell "just shy" of estimates, and it also lowered its forecasted fourth-quarter earnings range.

Macy's plans to close six stores in early spring 2013, including one Bloomingdale's. As a result, the retailer will book between $2 million and $4 million in related costs in the fourth-quarter, which is excluded from updated guidance.

Macy's announced it will open one new Bloomingdale's Outlet store in Rosemont, Ill. (Macy's previously announced 9 new and replacement Macy's and Bloomingdale's stores, which are currently planned and/or under construction.)

High-end department store Nordstrom bucked the trend, and reported same-store sales strength that was more than double analysts' estimates. It's same-store sales rose 8.6 percent.

Nook Sales Nosedive

Barnes & Noble reported disappointing holiday sales of its Nook devices. For the nine-week period ending Dec. 29, Nook sales fell 12.6 percent year-over-year though digital sales content grew 13.1 percent. Same-store sales fell 8.2 percent over that same period.

Barnes & Noble now expects fiscal year 2013 Nook media revenue of about $3 billion.

"Nook device sales got off to a good start over the Black Friday period, but then fell short of expectations for the balance of holiday," CEO William Lynch said. "We are examining the root cause of the December shortfall in sales, and will adjust our strategies accordingly going forward."

-By CNBC's Courtney Reagan; Follow her on Twitter @CourtReagan

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