Retail Sales Outlook Not So Festive

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Our quick overview of the retail situation earlier Tuesday can now be filled in with more detail about how retailers in general, and some retailers specifically, are expected to finish the month of December and the fourth fiscal quarter of the year that ends in January for most stores.

Research firm Retail Metrics released its preliminary estimates for December same-store sales Tuesday morning, along with its fourth-quarter outlook for same-store sales growth. Neither is headed toward the levels expected a month or six weeks ago.

Among major retailers, December same-store sales are expected to rise sharply at PriceMart Inc. (NASDAQ: PSMT). Sales rose 13.7% in December a year ago and are forecast to rise another 6% this month. PriceMart’s fiscal year ends in August, and its fiscal 2014 first quarter ended in November. The company is expected to post results on January 9, and the consensus analysts’ estimate calls for earnings per share (EPS) of $0.75 on revenues of around $609 million. All the good news is already priced into the stock though, and both its forward multiple and its consensus price target indicate the stock is overbought.

Gap Inc. (NYSE: GPS) is expected to post December same-store sales growth of 1.8%, on top of 5% growth a year ago. The bad news is that the company’s Old Navy stores are expected see a drop of 0.3% in sales, and the Banana Republic stores are expected to post 0.1% lower sales than a year ago. But the company’s upside potential is around 13%, based on a target price of $44.

J.C. Penney Co. Inc. (NYSE: JCP) is in what can only be described as a do-or-die situation and is expected to post a fourth-quarter same-store sales increase of 4.3%, according to Retail Metrics. Of course its December 2012 same-store sales figure dropped nearly 32%, so that is not a very tough bar to leap over. Anecdotal reports of store traffic and sales have been mixed at best, but it looks as though the company will post a gain of some size, and that is really about all that matters because it gives J.C. Penney more time for a fuller turnaround. If you believe all that sort of thing.

GameStop Corp. (NYSE: GME) is forecast to post a fourth-quarter same-store sales gain of 7%, but again the comparative number from last year was a very weak negative 4.6%. The new Xbox One and PlayStation 4 are expected to boost sales of consoles and boxed games significantly for the store. The potential upside at a $60 a share consensus price target is nearly 20%, and the stock is slightly undervalued with a 2015 P/E ratio of 12.68.

Among the weakest forecasts is that for Abercrombie & Fitch Inc. (NYSE: ANF). Retail Metrics estimates same-store sales in the fourth quarter will fall by 11.7%, on top of a 1% decline in December 2012. But the company just gave its CEO another lucrative contract to continue his current losing strategy, so that should make things better in the future, right? Oh wait …

Overall, Retail Metric expects same-store sales growth of 2.8% in December, on top of an unexciting 2.6% growth in December of 2012. Fourth-quarter comparable sales are forecast to rise just 1.1%, compared with a 1.5% increase last year.

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