Juiced In January, Stores Raise Forecasts

Macy's Herald Square New York

People are tiptoeing back into stores, giving January sales at some major retailers a better-than-expected jump. For Kohl's and Macy's, the results even promoted an upward revision of sales and earnings estimates.

Same-store sales -- excluding Wal-Mart Stores -- gained 3.3% in January, reports Retail Forward, a Columbus, Ohio-based consulting company owned by Kantar Retail. That gain, based on an index of 32 chains, represents a slight improvement from last month's 3% gain, and is far more encouraging than the 4.4% decline recorded in January of last year. The International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), which tracks a slightly different group of stores, says its index gained 3%.

Within those results were some decidedly peppy numbers. At Kohl's, for example, comparable-store sales bounced up 6.5%. "We continue to see strong increases in transactions per store, indicating customers are selecting Kohl's when they choose to shop, even as they remain conservative in their discretionary spending," the company says in its release, leading it to increase its fourth-quarter earnings guidance.



And at Macy's, same-store sales results climbed 3.4%, sparking the Cincinnati-based company to up its earnings forecast for the quarter. Online sales ( and combined) continued to shine, gaining 23.9% in January.

Most other department stores also scored positive results for the month, with Nordstrom gaining 14%, Saks 7% and Neiman Marcus 6.8%. At Dillard's, however, sales fell 5%, and at JCPenney, January results declined 4.6%.

Overall, the teen category made solid gains, with sales at American Eagle Outfitters up 10%, Abercrombie & Fitch up 8%, and Aeropostale up 6%. A notable exception is the Buckle, where sales fell 1.2% -- its first monthly sales decline in years. Hot Topic saw a decline of 13%, and Wet Seal says its sales slipped 3.7%.

"The recovery should continue on an uneven path as shoppers slowly resume spending," Retail Forward says in its analysis. Based on its ongoing consumer research, the company is also seeing improvement in household confidence.

While 32% of those in its survey say they feel worse off about their household income levels than they did a year ago, which is also an increase from December levels, they are feeling more confident about their jobs. And household perception of financial health is especially better off -- both from prior-month and prior-year levels -- in terms of both investment and home value, as well as levels of credit card and mortgage debt.

For February, ICSC Research anticipates that sales will be up about 2%.

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