Apr 9, 2009
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Teen retailers improve outlook despite weak sales

Apr 9, 2009

By Ben Klayman CHICAGO, April 9 (Reuters) - U.S. retailers that cater to young people ended up at the bottom of the class in terms of March sales, but some of those chains exceeded Wall Street's expectations or set higher quarterly profit targets.

Spring 2009 at American Eagle

The teen sector has historically been considered immune to economic ups and downs, but retailers that serve this group have suffered since last year as parents and teens drastically cut back on shopping trips and spending.

While 54 percent of the 31 retailers reporting March sales at stores open at least a year topped analysts' expectations, the worst-performing category was teen and children's apparel. Sales in that segment fell 13.6 percent, compared with expectations for an 8.7 percent decline.

However, several retailers said that to get a truer sense of spring sales trends, March and April results should be viewed together since Easter moved into the latter month this year.

Buckle Inc (BKE.N) and Hot Topic Inc (HOTT.O) posted better-than-expected same-store sales for March, while American Eagle Outfitters Inc (AEO.N) and Aeropostale Inc (ARO.N) painted rosier financial outlooks.

But predicting which chains will thrive can be difficult, analysts said. "Teens are fickle," said Erin Armendinger, managing director of the Baker Retailing Initiative at the Wharton School. "Authenticity is really important to them."


While American Eagle reported weaker-than-expected same-store sales, investors drove the stock up 10.4 percent after an improved quarterly outlook.

The company raised the low end of its earnings forecast to 6 cents a share from 4 cents while leaving the high end at 7 cents, saying it did a better job of controlling discounts.

Shares of Aeropostale, whose low prices have made it the big winner among teen retailers in the recession, were up 10.7 percent after it boosted its quarterly profit forecast to 35 cents a share excluding one-time items. It had previously forecast 25 cents to 27 cents. Same-store sales, while below expectations, still rose 3 percent.

Hot Topic posted a 7.1 percent rise in same-store sales on Wednesday, while analysts had expected a gain of 5.4 percent.

The rock 'n' roll-inspired retailer said DVD sales of the popular teen vampire movie "Twilight" accounted for roughly half of the increase. It also benefited from strong demand for accessories.

"Hot Topic is one of the few retailers who are out on top, and we believe will stay on top for some time," independent retail analyst Jennifer Black said in a note.

The company said it now expected to earn 1 cent to 2 cents a share in the current quarter. It previously forecast a loss of 1 cent to a profit of 1 cent.

Ken Perkins, president of research firm Retail Metrics, called results at American Eagle, Aeropostale and Hot Topic encouraging.

"They really seem to be holding the line on expense and margins so far and looking for a good April," he said.

Buckle, whose shares were up 8.6 percent, was another strong performer. Its same-store sales jumped 14.7 percent, ahead of the 13 percent increase analysts had expected.

Even high-end department store Nordstrom Inc (JWN.N), which saw same-store sales fall 13.5 percent, benefited from younger shoppers as its strongest categories were cosmetics and junior women's apparel.

However, surf-inspired chain Zumiez Inc (ZUMZ.O) posted a larger-than-expected 18 percent decline in same-store sales, and former high-flyer Abercrombie & Fitch Co's (ANF.N) saw a dramatic 34 percent slump -- 10 points greater than analysts had feared. Its shares were off 6.9 percent.

Abercrombie has lost market share to rivals as the chain has staunchly resisted lowering prices in the downturn.

(Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

(Additional reporting by Alexandria Sage in San Francisco, Jessica Wohl in Chicago, and Martinne Geller and Aarthi Sivaraman in New York; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)

(([email protected]; +1 312 408 8787; Reuters Messaging: [email protected])) Keywords: USA RETAILSALES/TEEN

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