Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

STRONG SALES IN APRIL; Stein Mart Sees Slight Increase, but Other Retailers Post Big Gains

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

STRONG SALES IN APRIL; Stein Mart Sees Slight Increase, but Other Retailers Post Big Gains

Article excerpt

Byline: DIANA MIDDLETON

Stein Mart Inc. Thursday reported a small bump up in sales for April, while, collectively, many other retailers reported the biggest monthly sales gains in two years, thanks to the Easter holiday and milder weather buoying demand for spring-ready apparel.

The Jacksonville-based retail chain said total sales for April were up 1.8 percent, while comparable store sales improved by 0.7 percent, the chain's first positive same store sales result since October.

Still, the modest gain fell short of Roth Capital Partners analyst Paula Kalandiak's estimated 3 percent increase for comparable store sales.

"It's a little bit disappointing," Kalandiak said. "But it's a step in the right direction. And we're seeing some progress in the home department, which is encouraging."

This news comes amid a disappointing first quarter in which total sales dropped 4.2 percent and comparable store sales slid 5.1 percent.

Stein Mart says the best performances came from men's and ladies' casual sportswear and special size sportswear, and the recently revamped home assortment also gained momentum.

"We are pleased that our comparable store sales have turned positive and that customers are responding favorably to our seasonal apparel assortments," said Michael Fisher, president and chief executive officer, in a statement.

"We anticipate that the positive momentum will continue in May even as we begin to exit from children's apparel and continue the re-positioning of our home business," he said.

While Stein Mart experienced modest gains, other retailers benefited greatly from U.S. consumers, who were undeterred by higher gasoline prices in April.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc.'s comparable sales rose 6.8 percent, the largest increase since August 2003.

Federated Department Stores Inc., Target Corp., Gap Inc., Talbots Inc. and Limited Brands Inc. exceeded analyst sales estimates. The International Council of Shopping Centers said April retail sales rose 6.6 percent.

Apparel retailers led the gains as shoppers bought dresses, shorts and T-shirts after the weather improved from March.

The April increases spurred J.C. Penney Co. to boost its first-quarter profit forecast and may help other retailers post higher earnings reports later this month.

Increases in gasoline prices, which rose 12 percent in April, could limit spending in May and June, said Arun Daniel, an analyst at ING Investments LLC.

"A lot of stores had a particularly good Easter," said Dan Poole, who helps manage about $34 billion in assets at Cleveland-based National City Corp., including Kohl's Corp. shares. "So far the gas price impact is modest. We'll see if the next move is back to $3 or $4. That will tell a lot."

Kohl's Corp had a 13.4 percent gain, more than double analyst estimates. …

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