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How's business? More retailers say wait until the quarter

Fred O'Connor | March 8, 2011
In an effort to get investors to focus on long-term results, retailers are no longer issuing monthly sales figures

BOSTON, 8 MARCH 2011 - Among analysts and investors, debate has been growing about a retailer-reporting trend to stop publicizing monthly sales, and instead to offer results only quarterly. It's a trend some retailing experts see as robbing them of an important barometer in determining a business' fiscal well-being.

Monthly reporting of same-store retail sales "gives you a look into the health of a business," says Rob Samuels, managing director and senior retail equity analyst at Phoenix Partners Group, who is now in the process of analyzing the February monthly reports of some stores, and the fiscal 2011 fourth-quarter sales results of those that don't provide the monthly numbers.

Incidentally, quarterly and monthly sales figures both are generally strong -- indicating that recession-weary U.S. consumers are opening their wallets and shopping. Target, for example, saw a 2.4 percent increase in fourth quarter comparable-store sales, and for February, it reported a monthly rise of 1.8 percent. At Macy's, February same-store sales increased 5.8 percent, while the quarterly rise was 4.3 percent. "What we're seeing in shopper data is that consumers are looking to spend," said Doug Hermanson, an economist with research firm Kantar Retail. "For the most part, the sentiment to their financial situation has improved. We think it will support continued momentum in the retail market."

But the trend toward less-frequent sales reporting remains a subject of concern among those who follow retailing, and that's been the case since 2006, according to Kantar. Five years ago, the firm compiled the monthly sales reported by 37 retailers. This year, only 28 stores can be tracked on the basis of monthly reports.

Just recently, Abercrombie & Fitch, Aeropostale and American Eagle Outfitters (AEO) were the latest to stop publicly releasing monthly sales figures, with each chain ending the practice last month. They join an already lengthy list that includes Home Depot, Sears Holdings, and Wal-Mart Stores, as well American Apparel, Ann Taylor Stores, Pacific Sunwear and CVS/Caremark.

Few of the companies have much to say about the reasons for reporting sales less often -- or even for maintaining monthly reports, if they do.

"This shift enables AEO to align its reporting schedule with the company's long-term strategic focus, as well as provide substantive information that reflects meaningful trends and performance metrics to investors and analysts," Jani Strand, the company's vice president of corporate communications and public relations, said in an e-mail. Strand did not reply to questions asking how significant a role the retailer's CFO, Joan Holstein Hilson, played in its decision to end disclosing monthly sales figures.


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