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Home no help in February retail sales  

New York – The new retail year started much the way the entire fiscal 2007 year seemed to go, with department stores struggling, off-price chains and warehouse clubs thriving --and Wal-Mart continuing to impress.

Home departments, however, are floundering just about everywhere.

“Softness remained in the home area, due in part to pullback in the housing market and the economy,” Wal-Mart commented about its February results, while Sam’s Club reported, “Home furnishing-related items and apparel experienced softer sales relative to other categories.”

Wal-Mart, which posted corporate comp gain of 3.0% and a U.S. stores rise of 2.5%, thumped its chest, announcing details of its planned opening of 81 new U.S. stores and clubs for March, and declaring its next annual dividend will increase 8% over the year prior, to $0.95.

Target managed a comp rise of just 0.5%. “Our comparable store sales performance in February was in line with our planned range,” said Bob Ulrich, chairman and ceo.

Of the retailers tracked monthly by HTT, Costco had the strongest comparable store sales gain in February, at 7.0%, with Ross Stores and TJX Cos. in the thick of it boasting 4.0% and 3.0% upticks, respectively.

Home, in an exception, was a leader at Ross Stores. John Call, svp and cfo, said, “The strongest merchandise categories during February were dresses with a mid-20% same store sales gain and shoes, men’s and home, all with high-single- to low-double-digit increases.”

The small-but-growing HomeGoods division of TJX reported a 2% comp gain for the month, beating the results at the core Marmaxx stores – where home fashions comps decreased 5%, according to Carol Meyrowitz, president and ceo.

There was little relief for home in the department store sector.

“Home categories and the Southeast region continue to experience the softest results,” JCPenney reported. The company said top categories were women’s and children’s apparel and family footwear – and noted its American Living launch “has enjoyed a good initial customer response.”

Dillard’s noted, “Sales in cosmetics and in the home and other category were significantly below trend.”

Other retailers did not single home out as a factor either way. At Bon-Ton, soft home was not mentioned, although furniture and hard home were cited among the “categories that performed well.” Softlines specialty retailer Stein Mart also made no mention of home in its remarks. Kohl’s did not offer category guidance.

Macy’s outdid them – going forward, the retailer will no longer report monthly sales at all.

The Johnson Redbook Same Store Sales Index (SSI) showed a 2.2% February comp gain among the 42 retailers it tracks. Among the components were department stores, down 4.8%, and discounters, up 3.0%. The SSI encompasses a much wider range of retail types than the Redbook discounter/department store index, which showed an overall February comp store gain of just 0.5%.

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