Updated from 3:47 p.m. EST

After what shaped up to be a difficult fourth quarter for many retailers, especially in the apparel space, Thursday's February same-store sales data will be pored over for signs of a turnaround.

Weather, as is often the case, was blamed for many poor performances in the fourth quarter as warmer-than-normal temperatures kept cold-weather items on shelves. In February, weather may once again have played a big role in retailers' results, given the significant snowstorms in parts of the country.

Overall, Thomson Financial expects its index tracking same-store sales at major chains to climb 3%, the same as last year's result. Stripping out


(WMT) - Get Report

, the number climbs to 4.1%, outpacing last February's 2.8% rise.

Same-store sales, or comps, measure sales at stores open at least a year.

Ken Perkins, president of independent research firm Retail Metrics, believes the high-end department stores will be among the strongest performers. He pointed to



report Wednesday of a sensational 24.7% increase in same-store sales in February vs. the consensus estimate of 6.4%. Keep in mind, the company faced an easy comparison due to a weak month the year before, but still, a 24.7% number is extremely positive.

Outside of the high end, Perkins isn't especially optimistic. "Department-store

same-store sales estimates have been coming down," he says. "Usually when that happens, the group doesn't blow out the numbers."

He also says estimates for the teen retailers have been heading lower. According to Thomson Financial, on Feb. 16 Wall Street expected the teen apparel group to show 2.6% same-store sales growth. That figure has come down to 1.6%.

"The estimate was positive last week for

Abercrombie & Fitch

(ANF) - Get Report

. Now it's more than a 2% decline," says Perkins, adding that numbers at



have been coming down as well.

American Eagle Outfitters

( AEOS), which reported quarterly results on Wednesday, said February same-store sales

grew a healthy 6%, but the figure was below Wall Street's 8.2% forecast.


Hot Topic

( HOTT), however, had a rare positive surprise late Wednesday. The company said its same-store sales for February fell 2.7%, compared with Wall Street's forecast for a steeper 4.6% decline.

Weather Matters

It's easy to dismiss bad weather as an excuse that retailers use to explain subpar performance. After all, unless the business is located only in San Diego, weather issues happen every year.

However, there are times when particularly severe weather will legitimately hurt sales, and last month's snowstorms were such events. I wouldn't be surprised to see


(KSS) - Get Report

, with many stores in the hard-hit Midwest, come in under its 2.9% expected comp.

Casual-dining restaurants could also be affected.

Brinker International

(EAT) - Get Report

, the operator of eateries such as Chili's and Romano's Macaroni Grill, reported late Wednesday that its same-store sales slid 4.9%, worse than Wall Street's estimate for a 1.4% drop. The company said poor weather lowered comps by 1%.

Warehouse clubs and big-box retailers may weather the storm (bad cliché intended).

BJ's Wholesale Club

(BJ) - Get Report

, despite reporting a

miserable fourth quarter Wednesday, posted February same-store sales growth of 3%, beating the 1.6% expectation. I suspect that's a good sign for bigger rival


(COST) - Get Report

, as well as giants Wal-Mart and


(TGT) - Get Report

. Wall Street expects Wal-Mart to post 1.5% growth, while Target's comps are projected to climb 5.1%.

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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