Retail Sector Sprung to Life in First Quarter - TheStreet

Several big U.S. retailers reported results that mostly beat analysts' estimates Wednesday, including

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Report

and

J.C. Penney

(JCP) - Get Report

, and the government released better-than-expected retail data for March.

The Commerce Department said April retail sales rose 1.2%, up from a 0.1% rise in March, marking its biggest increase since October 2001. Economists, on average, were expecting sales to increase by 0.6%. Excluding cars and trucks, retail sales rose 1% in April

Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart said it earned $1.65 billion, or 37 cents a share, in the first quarter, up from $1.38 billion, or 31 cents a share, a year earlier. Sales rose 14.4% to $54.96 billion on an 8.1% same-store sales increase. The average analyst estimate compiled by First Call was for earnings of 36 cents a share.

Among its segments, the company said Wal-Mart Stores had an operating profit of $2.55 billion, up 16% from $2.20 billion a year earlier, while Sam's Club posted operating profit of $218 million, flat with a year ago. Its international operations had operating profit of $381 million, up 77% from $215 million a year earlier.

Meanwhile, J.C. Penney said net profit in the quarter ended April 27 rose to $86 million, or 29 cents a share, from $41 million, or 13 cents, a year ago. Analysts were predicting earnings of 25 cents a share, according to First Call.

Total revenue for the Plano, Texas, department store operator rose 2.7% to $7.73 billion, while same department store sales fell 1.4%.

Office products retailer

OfficeMax

(OMX)

earned $63.5 million, or 51 cents a share, in the first quarter compared with a loss of $16.6 million, or 15 cents a share, in the prior year. Excluding a tax benefit, the company earned 5 cents a share, 8 cents better than analysts were predicting.

Cleveland-based OfficeMax said it expects its second-quarter loss to be narrower than that posted in the year-ago period, citing gross margin improvements and higher sales.

The country's biggest jewelry chain,

Zale

(ZLC)

, said it earned $7.7 million, or 22 cents a share, in the first quarter, compared with $4.8 million, or 14 cents a share, before an item in the year-earlier period. Analysts were forecasting net income of 20 cents a share in the latest quarter. Sales increased 6.3% to $444.4 million from $418 million last year.

Dallas-based Zale expects fourth-quarter same-store sales to increase in the mid-single-digit range and affirmed analysts' fourth-quarter earnings estimates of 23 cents a share.

New York-based luxury goods retailer

Tiffany

(TIF) - Get Report

Tiffany earned $32.7 million, or 22 cents a share, in the quarter compared with $30.7 million, or 20 cents, last year. The result matched expectations. Tiffany projected second-quarter profits of 22 cents to 24 cents a share; analysts were forecasting 24 cents.