A handful of U.S. retailers beat analysts' sales expectations for May, winning with strong selections of goods or drawing in shoppers looking for deals as high gasoline prices and a sluggish economy tempered demand.
Warehouse club operator Costco Wholesale Corp. Thursday joined department store operator Macy's Inc. in reporting sales at stores open at least a year that beat Wall Street estimates.
"Consumers are consolidating trips to the destinations perceived to offer the most overall value, such as Macy's and Costco," Wall Street Strategies analyst Brian Sozzi said in a research note.
But a rare sales miss by Victoria's Secret owner Limited Brands Inc showed that consumers, still facing high unemployment and gasoline prices near $4 a gallon, are choosy about where they spend and what they buy.
"There's not really a rising tide," said Walter Stackow, senior research analyst for Manning & Napier Advisors, which invests in the retail sector. "For every winner, there's going to be a loser."
Analysts expect U.S. chain stores to show a 5.4 percent rise in May sales at stores open at least a year, according to Thomson Reuters data. That compares with gains of 8.9 percent in April, when a late Easter holiday fueled sales, and 2.6 percent in May 2010, when the economy was still fitful and many experts feared a double-dip recession.
"The consumer is still in slow recovery mode," said FBR Capital Markets analyst Liz Dunn. "They are being selective ... and really consolidating purchases around places where they feel like there is better fashion."
One standout, she said, is Macy's, which reported a better-than-expected 7.4 percent rise in same-store sales Wednesday. It also raised its sales target for the current quarter.
Costco also beat market expectations of an 11.2 percent increase with a 13 percent gain, helped by higher gasoline prices.
Limited posted an increase of 6 percent, below the analysts' average forecast of 7 percent, and its shares dropped 1.8 percent in premarket trading.
Teen apparel retailer Hot Topic Inc. also missed, while rival Zumiez Inc. posted a slightly better-than-expected rise of 7.8 percent.
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