(Retail winners & losers article updated with ICSC data.)NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- Snowhat? The fear that wretched weather along the East Coast in February would drag down retail sales proved to be unfounded, as 19 of the 26 companies tracked by TheStreet beat expectations. While most retailers refrained from issuing first-quarter guidance, it is evident that consumers began purchasing full-priced spring merchandise during the month, an encouraging sign for the quarter. In total, same-store sales for the month grew 3.7%, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. As numbers continue to improve, investors should be focusing on those retailers that are raising dividends ( Wal-Mart ( WMT) did so today) and repurchasing shares, Wall Street Strategies analyst Brian Sozzi wrote in a note. ICSC is predicting a 2.5% jump for March. Read on for company-by-company same store sales breakdowns....
American Eagle Outfitters
American Eagle Outfitters reported a 6% jump in same-store sales, higher than the 2% gain analysts expected. While the numbers are encouraging, UBS analyst Roxanne Meyer says the big drop in average unit retail will put pressure on transactions. Merchandise margins were also only up slightly. The teen retailer reiterated its first-quarter outlook of 32 cents to 33 cents a share, in-line with Wall Street's forecast. Shares of American Eagle are slipping 1.4% to $17.21 in morning trading.
Abercrombie & Fitch
Abercrombie & Fitch ( ANF) was the big winner in February, posting a 5% jump in monthly sales. Analysts were expecting 6.9% decline. The surprise gain sent shares soaring 10.4% to $40.02 in morning trading. By division, Hollister inched up 1%, abercrombie surged 11% and namesake stores increased 8%. But, as with American Eagle, Meyer believes the drag in average unit retail will weight on margins.
Once again Aeropostale ( ARO) beat expectations, with sales jumping 7% in February compared to a 4% increase analysts were predicting. The teen retailer said it was "very pleased with the strong customer reaction to its spring merchandise assortment." This optimistic early reading on spring sent shares spiking 7.2% to $37.62 in morning trading.
Macy's ( M) reported a 3.7% jump in February same-store sales, but said it would have gained as much as 5% if it wasn't for the snowstorms. Wall Street predicted a more modest 1.4% increase for the month. Online sales, which are included in same-store sales figured, soared 38%. "We are well prepared to maintain the momentum with exciting and fresh merchandise for the spring season," CEO Terry Lundgren said in a statement.
J.C. Penney ( JCP)reported a surprise gain in February sales, climbing 1.2%. Analysts were expecting a drop of 1.3%. The department store said children's apparel was the strongest performing division, while home remained weak. Shares of the company are inching up 1.4% to $29.20 in morning trading.
Target ( TGT) reported a 2.4% uptick in same-store sales compared with a 1% increase forecast by analysts. The discounter saw transaction growth surge to a positive number in February, its first time in a while, Meyer said, as shoppers respond to Target's value message and assortment. Target said its best-selling merchandise is food and household essentials. Apparel and furniture sales remained flat versus last year. The company said it expects March same-store sales to be up in the mid-to upper-single digits, but foresees a a mid-single digit decline in April. The decline in April is due to the shift of Easter into March. Shares of Target are rising 2.1% to $52.72 in morning trading.
Limited Brands ( LTD)became a favorite among analysts after it reported a 10% spike in same-store sales compared with a 9.7% jump Wall Street forecast. This is the second consecutive month the retailer saw a comparable sales gain. By division, Victoria's Secret climbed 10% and Bath & Body Works grew 11%. Still, analysts are questioning whether or not Limited will be able to continue this sales and margin momentum.
Walgreen's ( WAG) same-store sales missed analysts' forecast yet again, but turned positive for the first time since November. The drugstore posted a 0.4% increase compared with the 0.5% gain analysts expected. Pharmacy comparable sales increased 0.9%, while front-end decreased 0.6%. The drugstore said its pharmacy same-store sales were negatively affected by 2.4% due to the introduction of generic drugs in the last 12 months and fewer flu cases.
The weaker-than-expected flu season also hurt Rite Aid ( RAD), which saw its February comparable sales tumble 3.2%. Analysts were looking for a decline of 1.7%. Front-end sales, which include cosmetics, hair care items and food, dropped 3.2%, while pharmacy sales were also off by the same amount. Like Walgreen, the company also said it was hurt by the introduction of new generic drugs. Shares of Rite Aid are falling 2% to $1.50. -- Reported by Jeanine Poggi in New York. Follow TheStreet.com on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook.