March 1, 2024

U.S. Retailers Report a Surprising Rise in March Sales

Analysts predicted the first drop in sales since August 2009 at stores open at least a year, a crucial measure known as same-store sales.

But the 25 retailers tracked by Thomson Reuters posted on Thursday an unexpected 1.7 percent increase in March, handily beating the average analyst estimate of a 0.7 percent decline. That was on top of a 9 percent increase in March 2010.

“The thing about retail is everyone talks about weather and holiday shifts, and that’s usually deep enough analysis for most,” said Joel Bines, managing director at the consulting firm AlixPartners. “But we’re seeing a real firmness in the marketplace for retailers that used the last couple of years to get their house in order.”

More than four-fifths of the retailers tracked beat analysts’ estimates. The widest margin was at the Limited, where same-store sales rose 14 percent; analysts had forecast a 1.5 percent increase. Saks Fifth Avenue also shot by forecasts, with same-store sales rising 11.1 percent, instead of the estimated 0.8 percent.

And the wholesale club Costco posted a jump of 13 percent jump, well above estimates of 5.7 percent.

Still, several stores posted drops in same-store sales. Gap Inc., which includes the Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy divisions, was down 10 percent. Kohl’s was down 6.5 percent, and Target down 5.5 percent.

Gap said Thursday that the tsunami in Japan, where it has 150 stores, would bring down its first-quarter earnings by 4 cents a share, putting it below the current estimate of 44 cents.


About a year ago, there was a big difference between how various sectors were performing. In March 2010, for instance, there was a gap of almost 11 percentage points between the best-performing segment (department stores, up 12.3 percent) and the worst-performing one (drug stores, up 1.6 percent).

This March, though, the sector with the best performance (discount stores, up 3.9 percent) was less than 5 percentage points away from the sector with the worst (apparel, down 0.9 percent).


“First you saw the differentiation in the segments,” Mr. Bines said. “Now, it’s performance-based retail again,” where there are big differences between competitors in the same category.

The companies with the biggest jumps cited a number of reasons for them.

Saks said strong categories included the women’s designer and contemporary apparel categories, men’s clothes, and accessories including handbags, jewelry and men’s and women’s shoes.

The Limited, which owns Victoria’s Secret, said that division posted a 19 percent increase in same-store sales, based on the introduction of two new bras and the continuing strength of the Pink collegiate-clothes subcategory.

Costco said that food was a strong performer, while electronics were down slightly, despite good sales of new technologies like 3-D televisions.

Separately, MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse, which estimates spending across all categories, reported on Wednesday that March sales were reasonably good.

“I’d still consider this relatively solid results, although several of the sectors are showing some deceleration in growth,” said Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis for SpendingPulse.

The luxury category was up 8.5 percent in March compared with the same month a year ago, MasterCard Advisors said. Apparel sales were up 4.4 percent, with children’s apparel performing the strongest. Footwear was the only apparel category to decline, by 1.6 percent, which Mr. McNamara said could legitimately be blamed on the weather.

“You don’t want to be wearing spring shoes when it’s still snowing in the Northeast,” he said.

Several retailers said they expected good April results in part because Easter is late in the month. The holiday was on April 4 last year, which pushed some of the spending into March.

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