December sales: Department stores down, upscale chains up

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Several retailers reporting December sales results yesterday didn't have much holiday cheer to spread around as they blamed the month's unseasonably warm weather for the poor performance of cold weather-related items.

J.C. Penney Company Inc., Plano, TX, said certain apparel categories "were impacted by unseasonably warm weather across much of the country."

While the company reported a 3.5 percent companywide sales increase and 2.6 percent comparable-store sales increase for the five weeks ended Dec. 30, it also indicated that overall direct sales decreased 1.4 percent. E-commerce sales increased 15.2 percent at www.jcp.com.

Federated Department Stores Inc., Cincinnati, also pointed to the balmy weather as it posted an 8.5 percent decrease in companywide sales and a 4.4 percent increase in same-store sales. The Internet provided one highlight.

"Particularly encouraging was the growth of online sales on macys.com, which is attracting new customers across the country," Terry J. Lundgren, Federated's chairman and president/CEO said in a statement.

Chico's FAS Inc., Fort Myers, FL, also disappointed with a 2 percent decrease in comparable-store sales for the five-week period ended Dec. 30. Overall sales increased 11.9 percent for a total of $193.2 million.

There were signs of strength in last week's numbers from the higher end of the market. Neiman Marcus Inc., Dallas, generated an 8.3 percent gain in revenue for a total of $689 million for the five weeks ended Dec. 30. Comparable revenues in its specialty retail stores segment increased 7.3 percent for the period. At Neiman Marcus Direct, comparable revenue increased 5.8 percent during the same period.

The story was much the same at Nordstrom Inc., Seattle, which saw a 9.8 percent increase in sales in December and a 9 percent increase in same-store sales.

Jos. A. Bank Clothiers, Hampstead, MD, said that sales for the fiscal month ended Dec. 30 increased 12.1 percent for a total of $102.1 million. Comparable-store sales increased 1.4 percent during the same period while combined catalog and Internet sales increased 20 percent.

Abercrombie & Fitch, New Albany, OH, posted net sales of $603.6 million for the five-week period ended Dec. 30, a 15 percent gain over last year. Same-store sales decreased 1 percent during the same period while direct-to-consumer net sales gained 61 percent for a total of $38.1 million.

The Limited Brands, Columbus, OH, reported net sales increased 6 percent for the five weeks ended Dec. 30 for a total of $2.027 billion and comparable-store sales increased 4 percent.

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