Most Stores Report Weak January Sales

NEW YORK — January brought no reversal of fortune for the nation’s hard-pressed retailers, but along with continuing sales declines, it did provide the expected dose of inventory reduction stores were seeking.

Most stores reported declines in January same-store sales, although Wal-Mart Stores Inc. generated an increase that surpassed analysts’ expectations. In January, comparable-store sales in its U.S. stores were up 2.1 percent, about a point higher than expected.

High-end stores continued their struggles, with Saks Inc. reporting a 23.7 percent comp decline and Nordstrom Inc. checking in with an 11.4 percent drop. Last Tuesday, Neiman Marcus Inc. reported a 25.8 percent erosion in its January comps. Same-store sales fell 4.5 percent at Macy’s Inc. last month, but positive trends in its business, including a surge in its e-commerce activity, prompted it to raise its fourth-quarter earnings guidance.

Gottschalks Inc., which only recently filed Chapter 11, became the first department store in months to report an increase, coming up with a 13.3 percent advance in January. Jim Famalette, chairman and CEO, said, “We believe the closure of other retailers in many of our core California markets benefited our top-line performance. Our stores in these locations realized sales gains greater than 15 percent for the month.”

Elsewhere among the department stores, J.C. Penney Co. said its comps for the month were off 16.4 percent and narrowed its guidance at the lower end of its forecast, and Kohl’s Corp. registered a 13.4 percent decline but noted that it expected its fourth-quarter earnings to exceed analysts’ estimates.

Few footwear-specific retailers reported same-store sales last week. Among those that did, results were mixed. DSW Inc. said its fourth-quarter comps fell 7.2 percent, versus a decrease of 1.7 percent last year. Brown Shoe Co.’s Famous Footwear division saw comps fall 3.6 percent during the period. Bakers Footwear Group fared better, reporting same-store sales increases of 4.2 percent for January and 3.6 percent for the fourth quarter.

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