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By
Reuters
Published
Mar 2, 2010
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Snow may have slowed February US retail sales

By
Reuters
Published
Mar 2, 2010

By Brad Dorfman

CHICAGO, March 2 (Reuters) - Record snow along the U.S. East Coast and other regions likely muted retail sales in February, limiting increases in what was expected to be an easy month for retailers to show big gains over last year.



Retailers that were likely hit the hardest by the storms, based on location of their stores, include BJ's Wholesale Club (BJ.N), Kohl's Corp (KSS.N), Target Corp (TGT.N) and to some extent Macy's Inc (M.N), according to Planalytics Inc, which provides weather information for businesses.

"You've got records set all over the place," Scott Bernhardt, Planalytics' chief operating officer said, referring to snowfall in places like Philadelphia, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., that shut down those cities for a time. Even Manhattan was blanketed by heavy snow on Feb. 10 and Feb. 25.

"Last year at this time, especially in the East and Southeast, it was basically spring," Bernhardt added.

Retailers with more concentration in the western part of the country may have done relatively well, analysts said, citing department store chain Nordstrom Inc (JWN.N) and Costco Wholesale Corp (COST.O).

Analysts on average forecast a 2.8 percent increase in same-store sales for 28 retailers that report monthly sales, according to Thomson Reuters data.

The forecast has already dropped from a 3.2 percent increase predicted last week and compares with a 4.7 percent decline in 2009.

"The only saving grace is the relative unimportance of this month," Eric Beder, an analyst at Brean Murray Carret & Co said, noting that spring apparel sales "at best, likely ran in fits and spurts" through the month.

February is typically the slowest sales month of the year, with the holidays and January clearance over and spring merchandise moving into the stores.

The month ended on a down note, as another winter storm hit the Northeast. Sales were off 0.8 percent in the week that ended Feb. 27, from the prior week, according to the weekly sales index as compiled by the International Council of Shopping Centers, Inc and Goldman Sachs. ICSC Research expects sales to be up about 2 percent in February.

Retail stocks have had a strong run in the past month as some retailers raised earnings estimates and reported better-than-expected fourth-quarter results.

Since the beginning of February, the Standard & Poor's Retail Index .RLX is up 7.4 percent, compared with a 2.3 percent increase for the S&P 500 .SPX.

Target shares are up 2.2 percent, Nordstrom rose 6.8 percent, BJ's shares are 5.4 percent higher and Macy's soared 24.2 percent.

A GENUINE EXCUSE

Monthly sales data provides a snapshot at certain retailers, but is less reliable as a measure of the economy as a whole, since industry giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc (WMT.N) and other major retailers like Best Buy Co Inc (BBY.N) and Amazon.com (AMZN.O) do not report monthly sales.

Discount stores are expected to be the leading sector, with an average increase of 4.9 percent during the month, according to Thomson Reuters. That compares with a 3.2 percent decline a year earlier.

Apparel chains are expected to be up 4.3 percent, compared with a 5.6 percent drop a year ago. But teen apparel is expected to be down 2.3 percent, compared with an 8.1 percent drop a year earlier.

While retailers sometimes use bad weather as an excuse to mask overall weakness, February was one month when the excuse was based on fact.

"Any of these retailers who have got a huge presence on the East Coast have every excuse in the book this time," said Patricia Edwards, founder of wealth management firm Storehouse Partners.

In addition, U.S. consumer confidence sagged to a 10-month low in February amid worries about jobs and gridlock in Washington, which could also cap any fledgling recovery in the retail sector.

With consumers still scared, retailers are likely to be fighting over market share, rather than everyone taking a piece of significant growth in consumer spending, analysts said.

But easy comparisons with last year should help retailers show some of the improving sales investors want to see, at least until the fall and the key holiday season.

"That's when we'll see who has what for the consumer, in terms of who is doing well and taking (market) share," said Edward Jones analyst Matt Arnold. (Reporting by Brad Dorfman; Editing by Matthew Lewis and Maureen Bavdek)

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