Gap (GPS) shares may have hit a 52-week high on Thursday, but color some analysts unimpressed.Following a strong April sales report, Gap's shares closed up 68 cents, or 4.1%, to $17.28. The company's shares, which hit $18.03 during intraday trading, finished above their 52-week high of $17.14, which was set last May. But some analysts noted that Gap is still a turnaround story. And the company's sales report benefited from comparisons to poor sales in previous years. "They're still not where they were a year before," noted one portfolio manager. "They're coming back from such a negative place from before that you can't get too excited. "At least it's not broken anymore." Such an assessment could not have been made of Gap as recently as eight months ago. Last fall, the company reported that its same-store sales, which compare results at outlets open more than one year, fell in September, its 29th straight month of declining sales. The nonstop sales declines had an effect on the company's bottom line, as Gap posted a net loss in its fiscal 2001. Its fiscal 2002 profits were almost half what they were in fiscal 2000. Since September, Gap has posted eight straight months of increasing same-store sales. On Thursday, the San Francisco-based retail chain reported that its comparable-store sales, grew 20% in April compared with the same month a year ago. Overall, Gap's sales increased 22% on an annual basis in April. Those numbers sound impressive, except when you consider how much sales fell the past two years. In April 2002, for instance, the company's comparable-store sales fell 24% on an annual basis. Gap's same-store sales fell 2% in April 2001 compared with April 2000. Despite the big jump in sales this month, same-store sales aren't back to where they were in 2001, much less where they were in April 2000.
"Gap is still in a hole on a three-year basis," said Fran Radano, a research analyst for Gartmore Global Investments. It's also difficult to tell the quality of Gap's sales from just the sales figures, Radano said. Those figures say nothing about traffic into the company's stores or whether the company was using top-line margin-busting promotions to goose sales, he said. "If their traffic is still negative, you don't know if the 20% comp is just a head fake," Radano said. Gap will provide greater insight into its performance when it reports its first-quarter earnings in two weeks. In the meantime, company officials said in a statement that they were "pleased" with Gap's improvement on its margins. "Our performance for April shows continued turnaround momentum in our business," said Sabrina Simmons, senior vice president or treasury and investor relations, in the statement.