By Paul Ziobro
American shoppers shrugged off pre-elections jitters and spent more on home improvement projects, sporting goods and off-price clothing, a promising sign ahead of the key holiday shopping season.
Home Depot Inc., Dicks Sporting Goods Inc. and TJX Cos. on Tuesday all logged strong sales growth in the quarter through October, with gains of at least 5% at existing stores from the year before. The results came as theCommerce Department said total retail sales rose 0.8% in October from a month earlier. With a revision in the September data, national retail sales clocked their best two-month performance in at least two years.
The data suggests a healthy profile for the U.S. retail industry just 10 days before Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving that marks the unofficial kickoff for the holiday shopping season. Retailers have delayed their holiday marketing push due to the long, bitter presidential election that ended a week ago with a win by President-elect Donald Trump.
Now that the election is over and airwaves are freed up to advertise more, retailers are in a race to log as many sales as possible before Christmas, a stretch that can make or break a retailer's financials for the year. The National Retail Federation estimates sales over the period will rise 3.6% versus a year ago.
TJX, which owns T.J. Maxx and other discount chains,said it is stepping up marketing ahead of the holiday season. "Our TV commercials have just launched and will be running every week throughout the holiday season," Chief Executive Ernie Herrman said. Meanwhile Home Depot and Dicks both said the election hadn't hurt sales.
Largely, the earnings reports Tuesday from three large chains show the continuation of outside trends that have buoyed results. However, shares of all three companies fell in early Tuesday trading, after rallying in the wake of the election. Later this week investors will get another measure of spending when Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Target Corp. report their latest results.
While some retailers thrive with tailwinds like a rising housing market or a competitor's bankruptcy, pockets of weakness remain. Department stores like Macy's Inc., Kohl's Corp. and J.C. Penney Co. posted sales declines in their recent quarters and some big-box retailers like Target are struggling to attract shoppers. Online shopping is also posing a major competition, siphoning off shopping trips to physical stores.
Home Depot's third-quarter sales rose 5.5% at existing stores, including 5.9% in the U.S. The rise in housing prices has made homeowners more willing to spend on projects like bathroom remodels and roof replacements. Earnings rose 14% to nearly $2 billion, helped by a rising value of each transaction. The number of transactions totaling more than $900 rose 11.3% in the quarter, showing shoppers' willingness to spend on big projects.
Amid concerns that the election season dampened sales, Home Depot finance chief Carol Tomé said in an interview "that didn't happen at the Home Depot." One reason is that a large chunk of Home Depot's business is purchases that shoppers can't forego. "If your refrigerator stops working, you're going to replace it no matter who is elected to office," she said.
The company is also winning over more professional customers with enhanced credit offers and improved delivery services. It raised its earnings outlook slightly for the year and still expects sales to rise 6.3%. It doesn't see a let up in the trends that have been at its back.
TJX, which also owns Marshalls and HomeGoods, relayed a similarly optimistic message saying more shoppers came to its stores to hunt through its off-price goods driving up sales.
"Our traffic, sales and merchandise margin increases tell us our strategies are working," said Scott Goldberg, TJX's chief financial officer. The margin increase, however, was offset by rising wages. The retailer, which opened 110 new stores in the period, reported a 6.3% drop in net income to $549.8 million as financial charges on debt and pensions eroded its 6.9% rise in total sales.
TJX said tighter inventory in the industry hadn't hurt its ability to scoop up excess merchandise to sell at itsdiscount chains. "The market is loaded with goods," CEO Mr. Herrman said.
Meanwhile, sports retailer Dick's said sales rose 5.2% at existing stores, as it picked up market share in the wake of the bankruptcy of rivals, including Sports Authority and Golfsmith.
"Looking ahead onto the fourth quarter, we are confident our assortment and marketing will help us to continue to capture displaced market share this holiday," Chief Executive Edward Stack said.
But he raised concerns that warmer weather could hurt sales of high-margin cold-weather gear and played down concerns that the election curtailed spending. "We don't really think it had any impact," he said.
Meanwhile, Dick's Chief Operating Officer Andre J. Hawaux welcomed a potential overhaul of the tax code. "Everybody would love a lower corporate tax rate. So we're all in favor of that," he said.
Suzanne Kapner and Sara Germano contributed to this article.
Write to Paul Ziobro at Paul.Ziobro@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
November 15, 2016 14:16 ET (19:16 GMT)
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