July Retail Sales Not as Hot as the Weather (COST, BJ, TGT, WMT, M, JWN, GPS, LTD, ARO, ANF)

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Retailers are reporting July sales figures this morning, and so far there’s not a lot of excitement. July is the time when stores clear out summer merchandise to stock up on back-to-school gear. But even discounted prices don’t seem be drawing customers, especially for those stores that cater to teenagers.

Costco Wholesale Corp. (NASDAQ:COST) reported July same-store sales up 6%, beating estimates of 5.5%. Excluding currency exchange impact and gasoline price inflation, sales grew 4%. BJ’s Wholesale Club Inc. (NYSE:BJ) reported a same-store increase of 2.8%, considerably weaker than expectations of a 4.5% rise. Target Corp. (NYSE:TGT) reported an increase of 3.8% overall and a 2% rise in same-store sales. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (NYSE:WMT) does not report monthly sales figure.

Macy’s Inc. (NYSE:M) reported a same-store jump of 7.3%, beating expectations of 5.9%, and Nordstrom, Inc. (NYSE:JWN) same-store sales rose 7.6% and total sales rose 10.6% year-over-year, from $806 million to $890 million. Nordstrom’s annual Anniversary sale starts in July, which is typically the chain’s second-largest sales month of the year. This year is no exception. Sales at Gap Inc. (NYSE:GPS) stores were essentially flat, rising 1%, which beat expectations of 0.1% growth. But the big surprise so far today has been Limited Brands Inc. (NYSE:LTD) which saw sales soar 12% against expectations of 5.2%. Limited also raised second-quarter EPS guidance from $0.27-$0.32 to $0.34-$0.36.

Teen retailer Aeropostale Inc. (NYSE:ARO) reported same-store sales up just 1% and total sales up 6% in July. The store also revised its EPS guidance for the year from $0.45-$0.48 to $0.45-$0.46. The store said the decrease was due to “the challenging retail environment” and an unspecified change in shopper’s behavior. That change is likely to be that shoppers now pay far more attention to price. Abercrombie & Fitch Co. (NYSE:ANF) reported same-store sales up 7%, against expectations of 4.1%.

As the back-to-school period begins, retailers are offering more promotions to lure shoppers, especially teens. Unemployment among teenagers is three times the national average, so the only thing that is likely lure these kids back to the stores is an offer they can’t refuse. Abercrombie & Fitch, for example, has lowered its average selling price in the current quarter-to-date by 16%.

The month of August and its back-to-school sales will provide a signal for the strength of the all-important holiday season. Weak sales in August is not good news for December.

Paul Ausick

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