Macy's sales slip, says shoppers wary of spending

NEW YORK — Macy's Inc. reported a disappointing profit for its second quarter and cut its outlook for the year on Wednesday. The department store chain blamed shoppers' reluctance to spend for a rare slip in sales.

Its shares fell 4 percent in regular trading. Over the past year, its stock is up almost 27 percent.

The second-quarter weakness raises worries about consumer spending, an important part of the economy, and how other merchants fared during the spring and early summer.

Macy's, the first of the major retailers to report second-quarter results, has been a standout among its peers throughout the economic recovery. It's a barometer of spending among middle- to upper-income shoppers.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Kohl's Corp. and Nordstrom Inc. are among the major retailers scheduled to report later this week.


Like other retailers, the Cincinnati-based operator of Macy's and Bloomingdale's is grappling with a yo-yo economic recovery that's making people careful about their purchases heading into the heart of the key back-to-school selling period.

While jobs are easier to get and the turnaround in the housing market is showing promise, the improvements haven't been enough to get most Americans to spend more. Most are juggling tepid wage gains with higher costs of living.

"We believe that much of our weakness is due to the health of the consumer and to the fact that consumers seem to be choosing to make purchases in non-department store categories such as cars, housing and home improvement," Karen Hoguet, Macy's chief financial officer, said during a conference call with investors.

To lure shoppers back in the store, Macy's said it is stepping up marketing but declined to offer details.

For the three months that ended Aug. 3, Macy's said it earned $281 million, or 72 cents per share. That's short of the 78 cents per share analysts expected. It was the first time Macy's profit missed expectations since 2007. A year ago, the company earned $279 million, or 67 cents per share.

Revenue slipped to $6.07 billion, also short of the $6.26 billion analysts expected, according to FactSet.

Revenue at stores open a year, a key metric because it strips out the impact of newly opened and closed locations, slid 0.8 percent. That was Macy's first decline since the fourth quarter of 2009.

Macy's now expects the figure to climb between 2 percent and 2.9 percent for the full year, down from its previous projection of a 3.5 percent increase.


Hoguet said that weakness during the quarter affected most types of products, including shoes and cosmetics. The company had to mark down prices after a cool spring. But she said she was encouraged by early back-to-school sales so far in August.

But other retailers such as teen clothing sellers American Eagle Outfitters Inc. and Aeropostale Inc. have warned of a slow start to the period.

Macy's also lowered its full-year earnings forecast to $3.80 to $3.90 per share, down from the previous outlook of $3.90 to $3.95 per share.

Macy's results were also surprising because analysts believed that the chain should be benefiting from the woes of J.C. Penney.

Penney, based in Plano, Texas, is trying to stabilize its business after a transformation strategy spearheaded by its former CEO Ron Johnson backfired and led to disastrous results.

During a question-and-answer session with analysts, Hoguet declined to comment on how Penney's moves to bring back discounts had affected Macy's.

Still, Macy's results don't bode well for Penney, which reports second-quarter results on Tuesday, said Brian Sozzi, chief equities strategist for Belus Capital Advisors.

Shares of Macy's fell $2.07 to $46.43 in mid-day trading. Over the past 52 weeks, the stock has traded between $36.30 and $50.77.

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