Updated from 10:15 a.m. EST
lowered its fourth-quarter earnings forecast Thursday based on disappointing holiday sales results, but other chains managed to pull off solid top-line results overall in December.
Wal-Mart, which said over the weekend that December same-store sales rose a relatively anemic 2.2% from a year ago, now says earnings in the January quarter will be near the low end of its previous forecast of 82 cents to 86 cents a share. The Thomson First Call mean estimate for the period is for earnings of 84 cents a share.
For January, world's largest retailer sees same-store sales growth of 3% to 5% from a year ago. The company also broke down its 2.2% December comps figure, saying same-store sales rose 1.9% from a year ago at its Wal-Mart stores division and increased 3.6% at Sam's Club. Overall sales were $40.83 billion in the month, up 6.3% from a year ago.
Same-store sales, or comps, measure sales recorded at stores open at least a year -- a key gauge of a retailer's competitive performance.
The International Council of Shopping Centers reported that its overall same-store sales index, measuring results from 66 national chains, rose 3.2% in December. Combined with November's gain of 3.8%, the two-month holiday season ended with a total increase of about 3.5%, meeting expectations.
"I would describe the results as moderate and expected," said Michael Niemera, chief economist and director of research with ICSC. "You can pick individual players who did well here and there and grabbed some market share, but overall, these results show that sales are just muddling along. It's nothing to get very excited about, and it's a continuation of what we've been seeing for a while now."
For the year, overall same-store sales grew 3.7%, according to ICSC, a slight slowdown from the 3.8% pace set in 2004.
Wal-Mart's chief competitor,
, fared better than its larger rival. Its December comps rose 4.7%, hitting the upper range of its previous guidance. The discounter's net retail sales from continuing operations jumped 11.6% to $8.42 billion. Target reiterated its earnings forecast for the year, predicting second-half earnings of at least $1.50 a share.
In department store retailing,
said its comps were up 4.6% in December, falling a bit short of Wall Street's estimates. Analysts, on average, were expecting an increase of 5.4%.
Federated Department Stores
( FD) said December same-store sales were up a better-than-expected 3.4%. The company's total sales nearly doubled to $5.71 billion thanks to its acquisition of May Department Stores.
Federated said it is still on track to post a comp sales increase of 1% to 2% in the fourth quarter. January same-store sales should rise 0.5% to 1.5%. Federated also reiterated its guidance for fourth-quarter earnings from continuing operations of $2 to $2.20 a share. Excluding merger costs, the company expects a profit from continuing operations of $2.35 to $2.45 a share.
December comps rose 2.2% from a year ago. The results fell just short of Wall Street's expectations, but the company boosted its earnings guidance for the January quarter to $1.60 a share from $1.58 a share.
In specialty retailing,
continued to struggle, reporting that its December comps slid 9% due to declines at its namesake stores as well as the Banana Republic and Old Navy chains. But Gap noted that fewer markdowns resulted in improved merchandise margins from a year ago, and the company said it remains comfortable with its full-year earnings guidance of $1.12 to $1.17 a share.
Women's clothing seller
Ann Taylor Stores
said comp sales ticked up 1.5%, which failed to meet Wall Street expectations for a 2.9% gain. The company said it still expects to meet its previous earnings guidance of $1.17 a share but noted that it is continuing to carefully monitor the high level of promotions among retailers.
The bright spot in holiday sales came from teen apparel retailers.
Abercrombie & Fitch
turned in a stronger performance than expected. Its comps rose 29% in the holiday month, beating estimates, and the teen fashion chain raised its earnings outlook for the year.
Abercrombie now expects to earn between $3.58 and $3.63 a share for the current fiscal year, or $3.67 to $3.72 a share before a charge. Analysts were expecting earnings of $3.49 a share, according to First Call.
Elsewhere in specialty teen apparel,
American Eagle Outfitters
( AEOS) said late Wednesday that its same-store sales rose 9.8% for December, outperforming Wall Street's expectations for a 2.8% rise. The retailer maintained its fourth-quarter earnings outlook. Shares recently were trading up $1.36, or 6%, to $24.16.
also blew away estimates, recording an 11.4% jump in comps for the month. Wall Street targets called for a roughly 3% gain. The company sharply raised its fourth-quarter profit forecast, predicting earnings of 71 cents to 73 cents a share. The teen-apparel company previously projected earnings of 55 cents to 61 cents a share. Aeropostale shares were up $1.70, or 6%, to $29.40.
A newcomer to the teen retail space,
, posted a 20.9% increase in same-store sales for the month. The seller of extreme sports-related clothing and accessories went public last summer. The company's shares recently had jumped $2.35, or 5.5%, to $44.95.
( HOTT) didn't fare as well as its counterparts. December comps declined 6.2%, and the company slashed its fourth-quarter earnings forecast to 21 cents to 24 cents a share from 30 cents to 38 cents a share. Analysts had expected a 3.9% decline in same-store sales. Hot Topic shares were down 71 cents, or 5%, to $13.33.