Chain-Store Sales Expected to Rise 3.6% in February

Retailers had several headwinds to deal with in February; however, analysts are still expecting sales to be higher than the year-ago period.

Pedestrians walk through the Union Square shopping district in San Francisco, California.
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Pedestrians walk through the Union Square shopping district in San Francisco, California.

The month began with some harsh weather that limited the ability of shoppers to get to stores, but according to MasterCard Advisors' SpendingPulse, shoppers made purchases online or waited until later in the month to go shopping.

The Thomson Reuters Same-Store Sales Index is expected to post 3.6 percent growth in February. While this is a healthy level, it is weaker than February 2010's 4.0 percent growth.

Without a doubt, retailers will be talking about the weather.

Needham & Co. analyst Christine Chen expects specialty apparel retailers will see delayed demand for warm-weather products.

"We think the winter weather blues have led consumers to plan warm location vacations, which has resulted in renewed interest in spring product due to pent-up demand, despite a cold snap at the end of the month," Chen said in a research note previewing same-store sales.

Chen expects February sales will be "generally in-line with expectations."

Colder temperatures at the beginning of the month also may have helped retailers clear out the last of the winter merchandise. But with delayed spring purchases, it may be difficult to tell what trends are taking hold among consumers.

Also, gasoline prices shot up at the end of the month. It will be interesting to see if some retailers have been hurt, as consumers put more of their income toward gas purchases.

It also is worth noting that the number of stores reporting same-store sales continues to decline. Teen retailers Abercrombie & Fitch , American Eagle Outfitters and Aeropostale are the latest retailers to stop reporting monthly same-store sales.

The companies that are still reporting make up about 32 percent of the revenue in the Standard & Poor's 500 Index's consumer discretionary sector, said Jharonne Martis-Olivo, an analyst at Thomson Reuters. (The figures she based this figure on are drawn from 2009 sales, as some retailers have not yet finished reporting 2010 sales, she said.)

Since 2008, the group of retailers reporting monthly sales has been shrinking. Ann Taylor Stores , Chico's FAS and Pacific Sunwear of California are among those that have ditched the practice.

At times, the decision to halt the reports has coincided with declining sales. This was what happened in the case of retail behemoth Wal-Mart Stores , which stopped reporting monthly sales in May 2009. Same-store sales at Wal-Mart's US stores have fallen for six straight quarters.

Some retailers have argued that reporting sales on a monthly basis puts too much focus on short-term results.

Also, monthly figures can be choppy when there are shifts in the retail calendar. For example, same-store sales in March this year are likely to be hurt by the timing of Easter, which will occur at the end of April this year.

Customer Growth Partners President Craig Johnson said he thinks it's preferable to look at sales figures rather than comparable-store sales, because comp-store sales can be easily manipulated by adjusting the stores on the comparison list.

Still, the same-store sales figures are closely followed, and can impact how retail stocks trade when they are issued. The following is a list of estimates for the stores reporting this week:

February 2011 Same-Store Sales Estimates

February 2011 Estimates
February 2010 Actuals
Costco 7.0% 9.0%
BJ's Wholesale 3.5% 7.5%
Target 2.1% 2.4%
JC Penney 4.1% 1.2%
Kohl's Department Store 4.1% 1.2%
Dillards Department Store 2.0% 2.0%
JW Nordstrom 4.0% 10.3%
Saks Department Store 5.1% 2.0%
Stage Stores 2.5% (3.9%)
Macy's 3.6% 4.3%
Gap (0.8%) 3.0%
TJX 2.8% 2.0%
Limited 8.3% 10.0%
Ross Stores 1.6% 11.0%
Stein Mart Breakeven (9.3%)
Hot Topic (5.2%) (7.0%)
Wet Seal (1.3%) 4.7%
The Buckle 2.8% 5.1%
Zumiez 4.3% 11.2%
Walgreen 3.5% 0.4%
Rite Aid 1.5% (3.2%)
Source: Thomson Reuters; Figures in parenthesis are losses.

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