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October Comps Flat as Teen Apparel Sector Sinks

Women’s Wear Daily

By: Arthur Zaczkiewicz

For October, fickle teens and warmer weather across most regions in the U.S. dragged down sales across key sectors, but there were a few bright spots in apparel.

As a result, October comparable-store sales came in flat on a year-over-year basis. By product segment, at least one analyst noted a sharp decline in outerwear sales due to the above-average temperatures, which may negatively impact inventory levels moving forward.

For October, according to Thomson Reuters, the aggregated mean (revenue weighted) was flat. Excluding drug stores, the month showed a decline of 0.2 percent. Apparel was up 3.1 percent on a mean basis, due to strong results from L Brands, However, the mean excludes Gap Inc., which reports comps on Monday. The retailer is expected to post a 0.3 percent decline, according to consensus estimates.

The teen apparel segment’s mean came in with a decline of 6.7 percent. The Buckle Inc.’s comps fell 5.8 percent, while Zumiez Inc.’s same-store sales dropped 8.1 percent.

For L Brands Inc., same-store sales showed a 5 percent gain, which includes the same percent gain at Bath & Body Works as well as its Victoria’s Secret brands. The specialty apparel retailer reiterated its previously raised third quarter earnings guidance based on the consistent sales performance. The company expects earnings per share to be between 51 and 53 cents, which is above prior guidance of 40 to 45 cents – and well above the 44 cents it reported in the third quarter of last year.

At Cato Corp., same-store sales rose 1 percent, which forced the retailer to up its earnings guidance. “October same-store sales were above our guidance,” said John Cato, president and chief executive officer. “With recent positive trends and a favorable tax adjustment of [6 cents] per share, we now estimate that third quarter earnings per diluted share will be in the range of 24 to 28 cents versus 20 cents last year and up from our previous guidance of 18 to 22 cents.”

Stein Mart Inc. said comps dropped 2.5 percent. In a statement, the retailer noted that “Florida and North Carolina had positive comparable-store sales in October and were the strongest sales in the chain, while Texas and the West performed below the chain.” The company also said for the third quarter, “men’s and home had the strongest sales, while ladies’ apparel and accessories performed lower than the chain.” The drop in women’s apparel and accessories is a reversal from over the summer when the retailer noted an uptick in the category. “All results were impacted by record high temperatures in most regions,” the company added.

“Unseasonably warm weather impacted traffic, and our sales during the third quarter,” said ceo Jay Stein. “We continue to have a positive outlook on our important fourth quarter holiday sales, which will include incremental sales from six new stores opened through the third quarter plus four more new stores opening in November.”

Craig R. Johnson, president of Customer Growth Partners, said by product segment, outerwear was taking a beating due to “near-record warmth and to overall softness in retail spending entering holiday.”

“Retailers – specialty and department stores – are still holding off promotions, waiting for the first cold snap to trigger full-price sales,” he explained. “And they would subsequently cut prices, but they want to get at least some full-price sell-through first.”

Johnson said retailers “can’t wait much longer, since Black Friday and holiday receipts are all in the pipeline waiting for delivery, and stores may need to mark down before getting much full-price sell-through at all – especially since October was dismal, which threatens early fourth quarter topline growth and full fourth-quarter margins.”

He went on to note that this impacted most outerwear categories, “including coats, parkas, scarves, gloves, beanies – but not boots, which remain hot, and which are more of a fashion item versus a brave-the-elements item.” Johnson also said upscale brands such as Moncler, Canada Goose and Mackage are less impacted by weather. He said there were more “statement” brands, “which cater to top-quintile households – the only income quintile seeing real growth.”

As a result, Johnson reiterated that year-over-year retail sales will come in with a 3.2 percent gain, which compares to a 4.6 percent increase last year. “The implication is that holiday has long been promotional, but this year may be most extreme since the recession, across almost all the price spectrum except luxury,” he said.

As for the weather in November, the outlook is not too good for retailers. Weather data analysts at Planalytics said while this past year “has proven favorable for the apparel sector compared to last year…as we enter November, which is expected to trend warmer, there will be a negative weather impact [on the specialty apparel sector] – minus $166 million. The mass merchant sector also faces sales risk next month with a negative $246 million weather-based sales impact. On the flip side, the hardware/home centers sector should see a $104 million boost as conditions allow for more home improvement projects.”

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