Despite record low temperatures and severe storms across most of the country, retailers managed to post stellar results in January. Consumers appeared to be mired in a post-holiday hangover and weekly sales tracking suggested performance was going to underwhelm during the month, but most companies were able to beat estimates and sustain margins on strong sales of winter clearance merchandise and limited discounting.
Total sales for the 30 retailers we track increased 7.3% from a year ago to $28.4 billion in January, while same-store sales rose 4.9% on top of a 3.2% gain last year. This was the 17th straight gain after 12 consecutive months of declines. For the 12 months ended January, which is the fiscal year-end for the majority of retailers, total sales rose 6.2% to $409.1 billion and same-store sales increased 3.8% after a 1.1% decline in the prior-year period.
Twenty-two out of the 30 retailers posted comparable sales gains for the month, compared to 17 of 30 last January. Top performers this month were Limited Brands (LTD) (+24% comp), Zumiez (ZUMZ) (+15.3%), Neiman Marcus (NMG) (+9.8%) and Costco (COST) (+9%), while laggards included American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) (-6%), Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) (-4%) and Hot Topic (HOTT) (-3.3%).
Most retailers were up against tough comps from last January, storms negatively affected performance by about 1%-3% and rising gas prices are most likely eating into discretionary spending. However, the robust performance in January and for the fourth quarter suggests this retail rebound is sustainable.