The Wall Street Journal reports Retailers Turn in a Mixed Bag for June Sales.

U.S. retailers reported mixed results for June, with some stores benefiting from aggressive promotions and others hurt by consumers’ continued restrained spending.

Retailers from department stores to teen retailers responded to limited demand with increased markdowns. Big sales during June are common as retailers try to clear shelves for fall merchandise, especially back-to-school apparel. But a number of analysts are calling June’s discounting steep.

“Many retailers pulled out all of the stops with respect to promos in June,” said Brian Sozzi, retail analyst at Wall Street Strategies. “During our store walks throughout the month, the level of promotions picked up relative to previous months.”

“Sales in electronics, video games, music and movies were particularly soft for the month,” said Target Chief Executive Gregg Steinhafel. “We continue to plan our business cautiously.” Target said it expects July same-store sales to be up in the low single digits.

Retailers were forecast to report 3.2% growth at stores open at least a year, according to the 28 companies tracked by Thomson Reuters. The estimate compares with a 4.9% drop last year. Same-store sales are considered a key barometer of retailers’ health because the figures allow clean comparisons as opposed to overall sales because store numbers fluctuate.

“We’re almost treading water compared to the building spending momentum we saw at the beginning of the year,” said Mike Berry, director of industry research at MasterCard Inc.’s Spending Pulse unit. “At the beginning of the year, people were anticipating good news and spending increased. When economy didn’t turn around, consumers took a step back.”

Retail Winners Exceeding Expectations

J.C. Penney Co. (JCP) sales +4.5%
Macy’s (M) sales +6.5% w
Nordstrom (JWN) sales +14%
Ambercrombie & Fitch (ANF) sales +9%

Retail Losers Not Meeting Expectations

Target (TGT) sales +1.7% vs. expectations of +2.7%
Kohl’s (KSS) sales +5.9% vs. +6.5% expected
Teen retailer Wet Seal (WTSLA) sales -3.6%
Gap (GPS) sales flat

Retail Sales Synopsis

Those numbers may seem pretty good but June sales benefited from a late Memorial Day that pushed sales into June. Moreover, June is normally a stronger month than May. More importantly, note how estimates were ratcheted lower as the month progressed.

At the beginning of June estimates were +3.8% in aggregate but by the end of the month the estimates (and numbers to beat), were a mere +3.2%.

Discounting was steep.

Here is one of the most telling comments from the article “Retailers that surpassed analysts’ expectations were mostly quiet about increasing their second-quarter guidance, raising questions about how much the promotions, while aiding sales, came at the cost of lower profit margins on the items.

Yesterday’s Amazing Hype

In contrast today’s reported “Mixed Bag”, yesterday’s hype was rather amazing, including a Bloomberg headline touting “U.S. Retailers’ Sales Rise at Fastest Pace in 4 Years”

I talked about that hype in Market Rallies as Retail Sales ‘Purportedly’ Rise at Fastest Pace in 4 Years; Signs Suggest this Oversold Rally will Soon be Dead

Same Store Sales – Misleading Sign

Reis has it correct and so do I. Not only is it easy to beat record low comparisons of a year ago, same store sales are rising in part because stores are closing like mad.

Circuit City closed its entire chain in bankruptcy, thus some of those sales went to Best Buy, some other places, and some sales simply vanished.

More importantly, states have been reporting declining sales tax collections for the entire year.

Admittedly state tax collection numbers are frequently delayed by a couple months, but that still does not jibe with overly bullish comments about sales over the first five months of the year from the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Assuming you believe the fantasy sales reports, a more important question is “where to next?”

If you are properly reading the signs, this is what you see ….

That’s All Folks

Image courtesy of clipart for free.

Given the headwinds in this economy, the lack of jobs, the falling consumer confidence numbers, falling new home sales, and falling leading indicators, today may be the last hurrah for retail sales for quite some time.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock
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