All but one of the apparel retailers still reporting monthly comparable store sales posted declines in August

All but one of the apparel retailers still reporting monthly comparable store sales posted declines in August

August proved a slightly more positive month for the handful of US apparel retailers still reporting their monthly comparable sales figures as same-store sales came in ahead of expectations, but bankruptcies, store closures, anaemic earnings growth, and the looming spectre of Amazon continue to cast a pall over the group with all but one recording a decline.

According to research firm Retail Metrics, August same-store sales increased 5.9% for monthly reporters, versus expectations for a 4.5% gain. This compares to a modest 0.8% increase in the same month last year and a 4.8% rise in July.

Retail Metrics president Ken Perkins says retail commentary throughout the month carried a "generally more positive but still cautious tone". Macroeconomic data continues to trend favourably for consumer spending, he adds.

Winners and losers

All but one of the apparel retailers still reporting monthly comparable store sales posted declines in August – with one booking its 26th consecutive monthly decline.

This was Nebraska-based denim specialist The Buckle, which posted a worse than expected 7.9% decline in comps relative to Retail Metrics' consensus estimate of a 5.8% fall. It also booked a 7.9% decline in net sales to US$80.3m for the four weeks ended 26 August from $87.2m in the year-ago period.

Meanwhile, comparable store sales for value-priced fashion and accessories retailer Cato Corporation continued on their negative trend in August. The retailer reported its eighth double-digit same store sales decline in the last ten months, with comps falling 10% year-on-year and missing consensus for an 8% drop. Cato has now comped negatively for 18 straight months. Net sales were down 9% to $56.2m.

CEO John Cato said: "Negative sales trends persisted in August and continue to put severe pressure on merchandise margins and profitability.  Correcting the missteps to our merchandise assortment is taking longer than expected and will continue throughout the back half of the year."

L Brands, owner of the Victoria's Secret, Pink and La Senza brands, also turned in a decline, albeit the company's smallest monthly comp decline since January with a 4% drop that fell right at the mid-point of its guidance. The drop marginally exceeded Retail Metrics' consensus -4.2% forecast, and represents a 300 basis point sequential improvement from the speciality apparel chain's 7% July comp decline. Net sales were down to $842.1m compared to $852.9m in the year-ago period. The company noted the exit of both the swim and apparel businesses had a negative 2 percentage point impact on total company comparable sales during the month. The company guided September comps to be down low-single digits.

Speciality apparel and footwear retailer Zumiez meanwhile, turned in a 7.4% August comp gain for the month, compared to a decrease of 1.1% for the same period last year. Total sales also increased, up 10.1% to $98.6m, compared to $89.5m in the year-ago period. The company operates 693 stores across the US, Canada, Europe and Australia.