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Retailers Report Mixed November Results

December 5, 1991

Undated (AP) _ The nation’s retailers reported mixed sales results for November, with some stores getting a good start to the Christmas shopping season but others feeling the pinch of consumer caution.

The sales figures announced today were ″better than the bears expected, but nothing to write home about,″ according to Terence McEvoy, a retail industry analyst with Janney Montgomery Scott Inc.

Retailers went into November and the Christmas season with lowered expectations after the weak economy and worries about unemployment made consumers reluctant to spend in recent months.

Struggling Sears, Roebuck and Co. reported its business improved last month. But at Dayton Hudson Corp., sales ″were consistent with the fall season to date,″ President Stephen Watson said.

The nation’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., continued to outdistance the pack.

Sales so far this holiday season are weak when compared with the results of stronger economic times, McEvoy said. He predicted industry-wide Christmas sales would rise between 2 percent and 3 percent from last year’s depressed levels.

Such an increase would mean the retailers will break even with last year after adjusting for inflation, which has been running at an annual rate of 2.7 percent this year.

Few retailers expect business to boom this season. Consumers interviewed around the country the day after Thanksgiving said they expected to spend cautiously this Christmas, and many said they would buy fewer or cheaper gifts.

Several big retailers reported business was brisk over the Thanksgiving weekend as consumers, searching for bargains, responded to special sales and markdowns. But they also described their customers as very cautious and conservative.

McEvoy said sales have declined since the weekend, a normal dropoff as many consumers do their shopping on the weekends. The last 10 days are expected to be the busiest of the season.

The raw figures reported by the retailers are somewhat misleading because of a shift in the calendar. Thanksgiving occurred a week later this year than in 1990, meaning this year’s figures were skewed negatively by seven fewer holiday shopping days.

Kmart Corp. said sales at its stores open at least a year were down 2.1 percent, while business at all of its stores rose 3.2 percent.

Analysts and investors believe sales from stores open at least a year - also known as same-store or comparable store sales - are a better yardstick of a retailer’s performance than overall sales. New stores tend to have extraordinarily strong sales that can distort a retailer’s results.

Kmart’s reporting period ends earlier than other retailers, so its sales do not reflect the start of the Christmas season.

The company, which opened some of its stores on Thanksgiving, said early holiday sales were good. ″Our sales were up nicely over Thanksgiving weekend sales last year,″ chairman Joseph E. Antonini said.

Wal-Mart reported a 13 percent jump in same-store sales and a 39 percent rise overall.

Sears said its same-store sales were up 2 percent and its overall results rose 0.8 percent.

Dayton Hudson said its same-store sales were off 3.6 percent, while overall sales rose 2.7 percent.

J.C. Penney Co. Inc. said its apparel sales were up over last year, but its slumping catalog operation took a toll on the rest of the company’s business. Penney said same-store sales were up 0.1 percent, while overall sales gained 1.2 percent.

May Department Stores Co. reported a 5.4 percent drop in same-store sales and a 1.7 percent overall slide.

Specialty apparel retailer Limited Inc. said its same-store sales were unchanged from a year earlier, while overall business rose 13 percent.

Gap Inc., a standout like Wal-Mart, said its same-store sales rose 8 percent, while overall results were up 24 percent.

The results reported today differ from the monthly retail sales report from the government, which includes sales from supermarkets, restaurants and car dealers.

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