May Modestly Brighter for Chain Stores

Thursday's retail sales reports should show gains, but they won't be exceptional.
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If Wall Street analysts are right, May was a relatively sunny month for retailers, though there are still signs of clouds.

Most major chain stores will post their same-store sales for the month on Thursday, and analysts expect the reports to show a rebound after a

dismal showing in April. Thomson Financial's index of same-store sales estimates projects a collective gain of 2.6% for May.

The forecast is below the average 4.5% growth recorded last May. But if you remove the lagging giant


(WMT) - Get Report

from the mix, the numbers indicate a 3.5% rise.

Todd Slater, an analyst with Lazard Capital Markets, believes that same-store sales numbers will improve over April but won't be exceptional.


A mixed May will not likely boost retail stocks," he wrote in a recent report. Slater believes the sales figures likely will be helped by increased promotions, which would hurt gross margins.

The retailers may have benefited from better weather in May than in April, tempting shoppers to hit the stores to pick up goods for summer. But gasoline prices kept rising, and the warning this week from the usually strong

Bed Bath & Beyond

(BBBY) - Get Report

provided some worry that consumers are putting off discretionary purchases.

The biggest winners in May are expected to be drugstores, which are projected to show 5.7% growth in same-store sales, or comps. The sector has been strong all year, led by



, which has posted 8% or higher comps in each of the past three quarters.

In May, Walgreen's same-store sales are expected to have climbed 6.7%, which is impressive since the company is coming off of a 9.8% comp in the year ago period. According to Thomson, rival


(CVS) - Get Report

should report 6.2% same-store sales growth, compared with 8.4% last year.

Drugstore stocks aren't cheap. They trade with a low-20s forward earnings multiple. But the valuation seems reasonable when you take into account the companies' mid- to high-teens growth rates.

Furthermore, as America grays, the drugstores should benefit from a higher volume of prescriptions, which also will help Wal-Mart,


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and some supermarkets.

Snags in Apparel

The weak spot for retail continues to be the apparel sector. Clothing sellers had a miserable 8% decline in comps last month, and Thomson expects results to be negative again, with same-store sales slipping 0.5% in May.

That said, the number climbs to 1% growth once


(GPS) - Get Report

is factored out. Gap, which saw same-store sales nosedive 16% in April, is expected to report a drop of 5% for May.

On the brighter side, look for luxury to remain a leader.



, which has reported some monster numbers this year, is projected to log a 15% comp in May. Thomson expects


(JWN) - Get Report

is predicted to post relatively meager 2.5% growth, but that's coming off a difficult comparison of 7.8% last year.

Rob Plaza, analyst with Zacks Investment Research expects the luxury segment to keep charging forward. His favorite name in the group is Saks.

"I think

Saks could be a big-time winner," he says. "Their expense structure was an industry worst. If they improve that, they've got a long run ahead for the stock."

Elsewhere, Thomson expects the teen-apparel group to show 1.9% same-store sales growth for May, with


(ZUMZ) - Get Report


American Eagle Outfitters

(AEO) - Get Report

poised to lead with 10% and 6% comps, respectively.

Abercrombie & Fitch

(ANF) - Get Report

is expected to show a 0.3% drop.

Discounters should report a 2.4% comp, according to Thomson. Among the heavyweights, analysts expect Wal-Mart to show a 1.4% rise, and


(TGT) - Get Report

is predicted to score a 5.9% jump in comps.

Wal-Mart's own forecast has called for 1% to 2% rise in same-store sales, while Target has backed estimates for a 5% to 7% climb.

In keeping with TSC's editorial policy, Lichtenfeld doesn't own or short individual stocks. He also doesn't invest in hedge funds or other private investment partnerships.

Marc Lichtenfeld was previously an analyst at Avalon Research Group and The Weiss Group and a trader at Carlin Equities. He holds NASD 86, 87, 7 and 63 licenses. His prior journalism experience includes being a reporter/anchor for On24 in San Francisco and a managing editor of InvestorsObserver, a personal finance Web site. He is a graduate of the State University of New York at Albany. He appreciates your feedback;

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