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A midsummer's sales dream for retailers
Stores post solid results as hot weather boosts sales at Wal-Mart, other chains.
July 7, 2005: 1:45 PM EDT
By Parija Bhatnagar, CNN/Money staff writer

NEW YORK (CNN/Money) - The nation's retailers often blame the weather for poor sales but found themselves crediting a hot and muggy June for strong sales of summer clothes, air conditioners and garden furniture last month.

"Weather transitioned from a major negative in May to a major positive in June," Ken Perkins, retail analyst and president of Retail Metrics, wrote in a report Thursday.

Perkins added that consumers also clearly shook off record high oil and gas prices during June and flocked to the nation's retailers as consumer spending correlated nicely with significant gains in consumer confidence.

Calling June sales performances "terrific," Perkins said 67 percent of the 63 retailers he tracks beat expectations, while 30 percent missed.

"That's well above the long term average of 54 percent beating and 42 percent falling short of expectations," Perkins wrote. Several retailers also upped their profit forecasts on the back of last month's sales surge.

Wal-Mart (Research) logged June sales that rose 4.5 percent at its U.S. stores open at least a year, beating its earlier forecast, on the back of strong sales of seasonal merchandise.

The world's biggest retailer said total sales for the five weeks ended July 1 rose 11.2 percent to $29.99 billion. Wal-Mart had earlier forecast a 2 to 4 percent increase in June sales at stores open at least a year, a key retail measure also known as same-store sales.

For July, the company expects same-store sales to rise between 3 and 5 percent.

However, Wal-Mart's chief financial officer, Tom Schoewe, said in a statement that despite the better-than-forecast June sales performance, the company expects to "continue to experience expense pressure in the quarter."

Schoewe also reiterated Wal-Mart's second-quarter earnings guidance of between 63 and 67 cents a share. Analysts, on average, expect the retailer to earn 65 cents a share for the period.

Richard Hastings, senior retail analyst with Bernard Sands, said he was a little concerned about Wal-Mart management's comments regarding expense pressures.

"It will take faster growth rates in their international segment, over the next 12 to 18 months, to help offset the rising domestic expense pressures," Hastings said. "We expect their Asian growth story to be very successful. Concurrently, we also remain cautious about the outlook for the growth rate of the domestic supermarket segment within Wal-Mart's U.S. supercenters division."

Wal-Mart's rival Target (Research), the No. 2 discounter behind Wal-Mart, posted same-stores sales that rose 9 percent and also upped its second-quarter forecast. The retailer now expects to earn a profit of 58 cents a share in its second quarter. Analysts, on average, expect the company to earn a profit of 53 cents a share for the period.

Specialty apparel chains and department stores also saw sizzling sales in June. Sales soared 38 percent at teen apparel seller Abercrombie & Fitch (Research), while American Eagle Outfitters logged a 28 percent gain in June sales.

The No. 1 apparel seller Gap Inc. (Research) missed the party, however. The San Francisco-based clothing retailer, which operates the Gap, Banana Republic and Old Navy chains, said its sales last month were flat versus a year ago.

Consumers continued to satiate their desire for expensive goods. Sales at high-end seller Nordstrom (Research) rose 8.1 percent, while Saks said sales rose 6 percent.

Among the department store chains, sales at J.C. Penney (Research) rose 7.4 percent. Federated Department Stores (Research), owner of Macy's and Bloomingdales, said sales rose 2.9 percent. May Department Stores (Research), however, saw a modest 0.7 percent same-store sales gain in June.

May agreed earlier this year to be acquired by Federated Department Stores.

But there were a few laggards that marred the overall positive picture. Home furnishings retailer Pier 1 Imports (Research) saw sales fall 3.8 percent in June and sales and electronics retailer Sharper Image (Research) fell 10 percent.

Despite the few setbacks, Hastings said the second quarter is looking good for the entire retail industry, adding that the outlook is "upbeat" for the early back-to-school shopping season.  Top of page


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