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 Wal-Mart ( WMT) 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) 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 Walgreen ( WAG), 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 ( CVS) 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, Costco ( COST) and some supermarkets.
Snags in ApparelThe 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 Gap ( GPS) 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. Saks ( SKS), which has reported some monster numbers this year, is projected to log a 15% comp in May. Thomson expects Nordstrom ( JWN) 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 Zumiez ( ZUMZ) and American Eagle Outfitters ( AEO) poised to lead with 10% and 6% comps, respectively. Abercrombie & Fitch ( ANF) 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 Target ( TGT) 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.