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March a Chilly Month for Comps

Chilly MonthNEW YORK - March proved a doozy for retailers across the country. Aside from Costco and Ross Stores, negative comps were the result for other key retailers on HTT's list - which was shortened this year as several major companies opted out of monthly reports.
     At least they saw it coming. The Easter holiday on March 31 was one week earlier than in 2012, presenting fewer days for shopping as well as increased chanced for a colder holiday with less spring-like temperatures.
     And that is exactly what happened.
     Here's a summary of retailers' March comp results:
     • Alco Stores Inc.: -1.7%) The regional chain's March sales took a hit from the extended winter weather throughout much of the Midwest. Outdoor seasonal experienced sales declines that ultimately were responsible for the entire sales decrease for the month.
     • Costco Wholesale Corporation: +6.0% for the U.S., 5.0% for the international division, and 6.0% for the total company, excluding negative impacts from changes in gasoline prices and foreign exchange rates.
     • Fred's Inc.: -0.3%. The company expected its March general merchandising sales to be hurt by both unseasonably cool weather and the shorter timing of the Easter holiday, affecting two of Fred's "key reconfiguration" departments - lawn & garden and seasonal.
     • Ross Stores: +2.0%. Comps outperformed the company's guidance for a 1% to 2% decline, but were impacted by the holiday calendar shift, with Easter Sunday store closures occurring in March this year versus April last year.
     • Stein Mart Inc.: -2.8%. Much colder weather as well as a lost selling day due to the earlier Easter represented "nearly two percentage points of the comp sales decrease," interim ceo Jay Stein explained. Nonetheless, linens, again, as well as men's furnishings, gifts and ladies' career sportswear posted the strongest sales for the month.
     • TJX Companies: -2.0%. Comps fell in line with expectations, said ceo Carol Meyrowitz. The company said its merchandise margins for the first quarter are on track to be better than last year, and as a result TJX has narrowed the range of its earnings per share guidance to $.60-$.62.

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