Retailers warn March sales slump likely to drag on

Published: Tuesday, April 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, March 31, 2003 at 10:08 p.m.

NEW YORK - Several of the nation's retailers, already suffering from a sluggish economy, saw sales hurt further last week as fears of prolonged fighting in Iraq mount.

Another factor complicating results is that Easter is on April 20, three weeks later than last year, depressing results for March.

Nordstrom Inc. warned Monday that first-quarter earnings will fall short of forecasts, while J.C. Penney Co. Inc. and Federated Department Stores Inc. said sales were weak last week, and are trending below projections for the month.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer, announced that same-store sales - sales at stores open at least a year - will be at the low end of its forecast for low single digit gains. It said it continues to see the ``CNN effect,'' as shoppers stay at home to watch news coverage of the war in Iraq.

Nordstrom, citing a softening demand since January and military conflict in Iraq, said it now expects profits to be below the earlier range of 23 cents to 27 cents a share. Analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call expected earnings of 25 cents a share.

The earnings shortfall is based on lower-than expected sales, which are trending down in the low single digits so far this quarter.

Penney's said that same-store sales last week were sluggish, and for the five-week period ending March 29 are tracking below company projections for unchanged to down slightly. Family shoes and women's accessories were among the best-selling categories.

Federated said that sales continued to be sluggish last week, and it now expects that sales will be down 6 to 7 percent. It had originally expected same-store sales to be down 3 to 4 percent.

Major retailers are expected to report monthly same-store sales on April 10.

Wal-Mart's shares fell $1.02, or 1.9 percent, to $52.11 in midday trading on the New York Stock Exchange while Federated shares lost 65 cents, or 2.3 percent, to $27.87.

Penney's shares were down 55 cents, or 2.8 percent, to $19.33 and Nordstrom's stock fell 74 cents, or 4.3 percent, to $16.58, also on the NYSE.

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