Tuesday, February 25, 2003

February weather kept buyers home

The Associated Press and The Cincinnati Enquirer

NEW YORK - The snowstorm that hit a wide portion of the Eastern seaboard a week ago and forced a slew of store closings dealt a blow to February sales, Federated Department Stores, J.C. Penney and other stores said Monday.

The inclement weather wiped away the much-hoped for Presidents Day sales bonanza and made what already was expected to be a tough month even more difficult.

"February was weak to begin with, and on top of that, we had the snowstorm and the rainstorm," said Kurt Barnard, president of Barnard's Retail Trend Report, based in Montclair, N.J. "Even without the weather, February would not have been a barn-burner."

Cincinnati-based Federated, which operates such retailers as Lazarus, Bloomingdale's and Macy's, warned that same-store sales will be down 7.5 percent to 8.5 percent.

After reporting a slight decline in same-store sales in January, Federated said earlier this month that same-store sales for February would decline 4-5 percent. The sales trend is expected to continue into March, with same-store sales forecast to decline 3-4 percent. April sales are expected to rebound to flat to down 1 percent, Federated said.

Macy's was forced to close 25 of its 100 stores in the East division Feb. 17, the company said.

Meanwhile, Penney said the severe weather caused "significant disruption" to its department stores and Eckerd drug store businesses.

The Plano, Texas-based company said same-store sales at its department store group are now tracking 2 percent to 3 percent below the year-ago levels. The retailer had expected sales at stores open at least a year to be level with last year.

Penney's drugstore division is now expected to report same-store sales that are unchanged from a year ago, instead of the planned low single digit increases. But catalog sales are better than expected, slated to be down 12 percent, instead of the projected 20 percent decline

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said same-store sales are now at the low end of its forecast for a 2 to 4 percent increase.

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