Increased costs bite US retailers despite higher holiday sales

Several US retailers reported small or moderate increases in comparable store sales during the critical November-December period. (AFP)
Updated 11 January 2019
0

Increased costs bite US retailers despite higher holiday sales

  • Mastercard SpendingPulse in December estimated holiday sales growth of around 5.1 percent to more than $850 billion, the strongest jump in the last six years
  • The 2018 holiday shopping season was a strong one — just not for retailers

NEW YORK: Holiday shopping reports released Thursday underscored anew the challenges US retailers face in the Amazon era — even if consumers are willing to open their wallets to spend.
The updates were a mixed bag overall, with several retailers reporting small or moderate increases in comparable store sales during the critical November-December period.
But a report from Macy’s aroused the most angst on Wall Street, after the chain slashed its profit forecast even as it signaled a modest increase in sales.
Shares in Macy’s plunged almost 20 percent, while nearly every major retailer was pulled down as well.
That included companies like Target that reported higher holiday sales and confirmed — but did not raise — profit forecasts.
The results were an ugly finale to a holiday shopping season that opened with high expectations owing to robust consumer confidence amid a strong employment market, relatively low gasoline prices and a boost from tax cuts.
Mastercard SpendingPulse in December estimated holiday sales growth of around 5.1 percent to more than $850 billion, the strongest jump in the last six years.
By that estimate, the 2018 holiday shopping season was a strong one — just not for retailers.
“It was a good season. Consumers had more money to spend. They spent it,” said retail industry consultant Dana Telsey.
“But the cost of doing business is getting higher.”
Traditional brick-and-mortar retailers have invested in heavily beefing up their online platforms and offering incentives to lure buyers, such as free shipping during the peak holiday season.
At the same time, these companies also have spent heavily to improve the in-store experience, hiring consultants to help beautify the surroundings and in many cases employing more workers during the peak festive season.
The latest results suggested retailers still have not found a winning recipe for the transition to the e-commerce era.
“We know expenses are always a problem as more and more stuff moves online because people simply will not pay for you shipping it to them,” said retail industry consultant Jan Rogers Kniffen.
“They want it to be the same price in the store in my door. That’s just the way it is.”
Experts say the retail industry is still undergoing an existential shakeout.
Companies like Macy’s, JC Penney and Gap have shuttered stores in recent years, while Toys “R” Us went out of business — a fate that could soon befall iconic American retailer Sears.
Macy’s shares tumbled 18.7 percent after it reported an increase of 1.1 percent in comparable sales, but lowered its annual earnings forecast to a range of $3.95 to $4.00 a share from $4.10 to $4.30.
Sales were dented by a fire in a distribution center in West Virginia and a pre-Christmas “earn and redeem” promotional event that was unsuccessful, Macy’s said.
“The holiday season began strong,” Macy’s Chief Executive Jeff Gennette said, “but weakened in the mid-December period and did not return to expected patterns until the week of Christmas.”
Target said comparable sales grew 5.7 percent over the holiday, while Kohl’s put sales growth at 1.2 percent. L Brands, the parent of Victoria’s Secret, reported flat comparable sales for the five weeks ending January 5.
Bookseller Barnes & Noble estimated sales growth at 1.3 percent over the two-month period, adding that its earnings guidance “may be reduced by as much as 10 percent” due to increased advertising and promotional costs.
Analysts said the declines were exacerbated by expectations that earnings growth will be tough in 2019 after a strong 2018 following the US tax cut enacted in late 2017.


OPEC may cancel April meet, but hold steady on oil output: Saudi energy minister

Saudi Arabia’s energy minister Khalid Al-Falih that April may be premature to make any production decision for the second half. (Reuters)
Updated 26 min 47 sec ago
0

OPEC may cancel April meet, but hold steady on oil output: Saudi energy minister

  • ‘As long as the levels of inventories are rising and we are far from normal levels, we will stay the course guiding the market toward balance’
  • ‘The consensus we heard ... is that April will be premature to make any production decision for the second half’

BAKU: OPEC and its non-OPEC partners need to reconsider if there is a need for a meeting in April, Saudi Arabia’s energy minister said on Monday, adding that there was no pressure from the United States to increase supply.
“We are not under pressure except by the market,” Khalid Al-Falih told reporters ahead of a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee (JMMC) in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan.
“As long as the levels of inventories are rising and we are far from normal levels, we will stay the course guiding the market toward balance.”
The JMMC includes major oil producers Saudi Arabia and Russia and monitors the oil market and conformity levels with supply cuts.
“There is a consensus that has also emerged that no matter what, we should stay the course until the end of June.”
Asked whether he was updated on whether the United States administration would extend the waivers it granted to buyers of Iranian crude, which are due to end in May, Al-Falih said: “Until we see it hurting consumers, until we see the impact on inventory, we are not going to change course.”
The oil producers are due to meet next in April in Vienna, but Al-Falih said this may not happen.
“The consensus we heard ... is that April will be premature to make any production decision for the second half,” Al-Falih said.
“We may not have a meeting in April,” he said, adding that the JMMC may recommend this later on Monday.