While most retail stores should weather the harsh effects of higher oil prices and a slowing economy, some may be in a better position than others to endure the less-favorable climate.
With the holiday season looming, and consumers' expenses growing, at least one thing seems certain: "With oil prices double last year's level, even if the prices drop by Christmas it may be too late to benefit holiday shoppers," Steven Kernkraut, an analyst at
, wrote this week in a research memo.
"At this point, consumer aren't going to feel the repercussion of an oil decrease in either their heating bills or at the pump until after the holiday season," added Kernkraut, who tracks
, among several other retailers.
But trying to predict which retailers will sustain fewer bruises in the current environment, based on September sales data released Thursday, is difficult. Many retailers met Wall Street's sales estimates, despite the economic factors, but over all they had mixed results.
, an apparel retailer, recorded a 24.8%
rise in same-store sales, or sales in stores open at least a year, but struggling
, meanwhile, posted an 8% drop. And although department store
said its September sales climbed 9.8%, J.C. Penney acknowledged a 4% decline.
Over all, same-store sales rose 3.3% in September, vs. a 3.4% gain in August and a 6% rise in September of last year, according to a
index of retailers. In spite of the wide range of results, some companies, analysts said, stand out from the pack.
Kernkraut maintains that the specialty stores -- especially
Bath & Bodyworks
, which are owned by
-- will perform well throughout the holiday season because they have a distinctive quality. For example, women can buy bras at an array of places, Kernkraut said in an interview, but in many cases they choose to buy them at Victoria's Secret, not at a department store.
"Those type of retailers create fashion excitement," Kernkraut said. "They provide unique products that are not commoditized. Look at Bath & Bodyworks. It is the only place you can go for some of those products."
Intimate Brands posted a 10% gain in same-store sales in September.
Another specialty-clothing store, the Limited, said sales rose 10% for the month of September, beating analysts' expectations. Talbots enjoyed even greater prosperity, largely because it is listening to customers, said Robert Buchanan, an analyst at
A.G. Edwards & Sons
Department Stores Could Lag Behind
If specialty stores emerge as the fortunate ones, department stores could lag behind, amid a slowdown in consumer spending.
said its same-store sales fell 6%, while
May Department Stores
, which operates the
Lord & Taylor
brand names, said sales increased a mere 0.7%.
But some department stores, on the other hand, fared quite well in September.
reported a healthy sales increase of 7.9%, and
said sales climbed 3%, in line with analysts' estimates.
And what about discount stores? Again there was some disparity.
failed to live up to Wall Street's hopes with only a 0.9% gain in same-store sales. But
posted respective gains of 4.8% and 7%, in line with Lehman Brothers' estimates.
"Given the economic uncertainty and concerns about a consumer spending slowdown," wrote Jeffrey Feiner, an analyst at Lehman Brothers, in a research note, "we believe companies that target the value end of the spectrum will provide the most resistance to an economic slowdown.
"If spending begins to slow, consumers will, in our opinion, begin to trade down their purchases to the value-end operators," he continued.
In a belt-tightening climate, it seems logical that many consumers would shift their gaze to the discount retailers, but at the same time, higher fuel prices are more likely to affect the value-seeking shoppers who frequent those stores, Kernkraut of Bear Stearns said.
"Consumer will increasingly look for value," he added, "but Wal-Mart, Target and Kohl's are the ones most heavily hurt by a rise in oil prices."