January may be the least important month of the year, as retail experts like to point out, but a sale is a sale and judging from monthly results from the dwindling number of companies who still report them, it was a pretty good month.
That bodes well for Walmart and supports the thesis that the company capped off its fiscal year with solid results to complement the expectation that November and December sales were also solid thanks to merchandising changes, the return of layaway, early opening hours on Black Friday and a heavy holiday marketing spend.
For example, in January the nation’s discount chains reported solid results with Target, TJX and Costco all reporting comp gains above expectations. Overall, discounters reported stronger results than department stores, which appeared to take a greater hit due to the unseasonably warm weather and heavy promotions.
At Target, same-store sales increased 4.3%, better than the 2.1% increase analysts predicted. Costco continued its winning ways with an 8% comp, excluding fuel, at U.S. stores, well ahead of the 6.1% analysts forecast. The 7% comp TJX produced was roughly double the 3.3% expectation of analysts.
January was a mixed bag for others. Big Lots reported a 7.7% increase, while regional discounters Fred’s reported a 0.8% decline. Macy's had a 2.4% increase, which was below the 3.5% increase that analysts had expected and Kohl’s eked out a 0.6% gain. Rival JCPenney decided to stop releasing monthly sales in January, as the company has embarked on a multi-year effort to transform its business.
Limited Brands continued to outperform, reporting a 9% gain that was well above the 2.7% that analysts expected while Gap Inc. continued to struggle with comps that fell 4%, less than the 5.1% decline analysts’ forecast.
The high end looked good as Saks’ sales rose a better-than-expected 10.5%, and Nordstrom’s advance 5%.