Same-Store Retail Sales Rose 4.2% in January

Retailers reported mixed sales results for January today, signaling that American consumers have remained cautious about when and where they spend their money.

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Twenty merchants reported monthly same-store sales today, delivering generally upbeat results for what is the last month of the fourth quarter for many retailers, and often the lightest month in terms of sales. However, more than a few of the retailers tracked by Thomson Reuters missed Wall Street’s expectations.

Costco (NASDAQ:COST) and Target (NYSE:TGT) were among those beating expectations, while Macy’s (NYSE:M) and Dillard’s (NYSE:DDS) were among those falling short.

Marked-down merchandise seems to have successfully drawn in shoppers who have become more prudent about their spending in light of the stagnating economy. Today’s same-store sales results also give an initial read on how well new spring products are faring.

While retailers sell many gift cards during the holiday season, the purchases can’t be booked as revenue until they are redeemed, and thus tend to help January sales as well.

Of the twenty retailers tracked by Thomson Reuters, twelve beat expectations. Same-store sales grew 4.2 percent in January when economists had projected 2 percent growth. J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP) is no longer reporting same-store sales, as it is undergoing a revamping of its pricing structure.

Target’s results reflect “strong performances in both discretionary and non-discretionary categories,” said CEO Gregg Steinhafel. Same-store sales were up 4.3 percent in January, beating Wall Street’s estimates for 2.5 percent growth.

Macy’s same-store sales rose 2.4 percent when 3.5 percent was expected, but the company raised its earnings guidance for 2012. CEO Terry Lundgren said, Macy’s still feels that 2012 “represents an outstanding opportunity to continue to capture additional market share from our competitors.”

One of those competitors, Kohl’s (NYSE:KSS), reported same-store sales growth of 0.6 percent today, beating projections for 0.1 percent. The retailer raised its fourth-quarter earnings view after lowering it last month. Men’s clothing and household goods outperformed the company average, but accessories and handbags were the strongest category, rising 20 percent on a comparable-store basis.

Gap Inc.’s (NYSE:GPS) same-store sales fell 4 percent, beating expectations of a 4.9 percent decline. The company issued fourth-quarter earnings guidance above analysts’ consensus. “January was largely clearance-based, and we’re pleased we successfully cleared holiday inventory,” said Chief Executive Glenn Murphy.

The Cato Corporation (NYSE:CATO) reported same-store sales of $50.5 million for January, a 6 percent decrease that was “in line” with recent trends, “with the exception of the last week of the month, which was negatively impacted by the timing of tax refunds,” said John Cato, who acts as chairman, president, and chief executive officer of Cato Corp.

Results for higher-end retailers were mixed, with Saks (NYSE:SKS) beating expectations, growing 10.5 percent when analysts were looking for 6.2 percent, while Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) reported 5 percent growth, falling short of expectations for 5.3 percent growth.

Stage Stores (NYSE:SSI), Bon-Ton Stores (NASDAQ:BONT), Wet Seal (NASDAQ:WTSLA), Fred’s Inc. (NASDAQ:FRED), and Stein Mart (NASDAQ:SMRT) also missed expectations, while Limited Brands (NYSE:LTD), Big Lots (NYSE:BIG), Zumiez (NASDAQ:ZUMZ), Ross Stores (NASDAQ:ROST), TJX Companies (NYSE:TJX), Buckle (NYSE:BKE) beat the street.

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To contact the reporter on this story: Emily Knapp at staff.writers@wallstcheatsheet.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Damien Hoffman at editors@wallstcheatsheet.com