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February US Same-Store Sales Show Initial Strength

By Karen Talley Of DOW JONES NEWSWIRES NEW YORK -(Dow Jones)- Retailers are turning in solid sales for February as warmer weather brought out shoppers for spring wear and holiday sales. Consumers came out for spring clothing that retailers put out during the month -- in many cases with bright colors offering some freshness. Analysts said some shoppers bought money they didn't spend on apparel for a frigid winter that didn't come. "It is easier to consider purchasing tanks and dresses when it is snowless and 50 degrees out," said Howard Tubin, retail analyst at RBC Capital Markets. The 21 retailers that report same-store sales, or sales at stores open more than a year, are expected to show 3.4% growth, according to Thomson Reuters. The three-day Presidents Day weekend and Valentine's Day were events that drew some extra buying. The National Retail Federation said the average person celebrating Valentine's Day spent $126.03, up 8.5% from last year's $116.21, and the highest in the survey's 10-year history. Last year, shopping over these holidays was constrained by more severe weather. Total spending for Valentine's Day this year was expected to reach $17.6 billion compared with $15.7 billion last year. Limited Brands Inc. (LTD), which benefits from Valentine's Day, reported an 8% rise in same-store sales, when 6.2% was expected. Same-store sales at the company's Victoria's Secret stores rose 10%, with growth driven by strength across all categories. Costco Wholesale Corp. (COST) Wednesday posted a 7% rise in U.S. same-store sales excluding gas, when 6.5% was expected. Buckle Inc.'s (BKE) February same-store sales grew 14.8%, well ahead of expectations for 5.8%. Fellow teen retailer Wet Seal Inc. reported a 5.8% drop, when a 9% decline was projected. Online sales fell 24% for the month. "We remain cautious about near-term sales expectations in light of our recent business trend," Wet Seal Chief Executive Susan McGalla said. J.C. Penney Co. (JCP) and Dillard's Inc. (DDS) both said last month they would no longer be reporting same-store sales on a monthly basis. J.C. Penney began doing so as it revamps its selling approach, but said last week the month's sales were trending below a year ago. Dillard's said limiting the report of same-store sales to quarterly results "provides a more complete representation of the company's performance." "The retailers that had a tailwind going into the February season continued to drive sales increases," said Joel Bines, managing director in the retail practice at AlixPartners. "It's a fight for market share among retailers rather than a rising tide, and those with momentum are winning out." Among retailers yet to be heard from, Target Corp. (TGT) said last week the pace of the company's sales has accelerated and returned to a much stronger preholiday pace in February. Kohl's Corp. (KSS) said it expected February to be slightly below quarterly guidance that calls for a same-store rise of 1%. -By Karen Talley, Dow Jones Newswires; 212-416-2196; karen.talley@dowjones.com

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