||Coldest March in 17 Years Shifts Shopping Patterns
Abnormally cold weather has curbed consumer demand for spring goods and apparel in many sections of the country, but some companies, including drug chains and dollar stores, are benefiting from the spring's delay.
"March is trending the coldest since 1996 in the U.S. It's also the snowiest March since 2002," said Evan Gold, senior vice president of client services at Planalytics, a company that analyzes how weather affects consumer demand.
Consumers were shopping very differently the weeks leading up to Easter this year than they were a year ago. Last year, March was the warmest on record for more than 100 years, Gold said. This year's shoppers were not after summer dresses and sunglasses. Planalytics evaluated that demand for shorts fell 12 percent in the fourth week of March versus a year ago and 9 percent for sandals.
Interest in lawn and garden items fell 21 percent, delaying the most lucrative season for home improvement stores.
"Springtime is ultimately Christmas for folks like Home Depot, Lowe's and Ace Hardware," Gold said. But cold weather will likely to continue for a few more weeks, he said.
The pattern reverses a trend. According to Stifel, Nicolaus & Co. analyst Richard Jaffe, the retail apparel sector was flattered by warm weather over the past several years in March, but this season it faced challenges in selling spring items with the colder temperatures. This might lead to overstock, markdowns and smaller margins this year, he said. Jaffe expressed particular concern over the teen and kid's retailers like American Eagle, Aeropostal, Abercrombie & Fitch and Children's Place.
Children's Place reported its fourth-quarter earnings last week and cut its first-quarter forecast, joining a batch of retailers blaming the weather for lowered earnings expectations.
Another sign of the weather-related downside is that same-store sales rose 1 percent in the week ending on March 23 year-over-year, which was the slowest pace since Feb. 27, 2010, according to an International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs index.
On the flipside, business was stronger at drug stores and dollar stores, along with office and furniture stores, according to a note from the International Council of Shopping Centers.
Dollar General reported fourth-quarter results last Monday, which were far above analysts' expectations, and the company also projected stronger sales growth for 2013.
"Dollar General has been impacted less than others by the weather," said Meridith Adler, managing director at Barclays Capital. She added that its customers are looking for value and Dollar General provides "decent quality and a decent shopping experience."
Adler also said that severe weather is more conducive for people to come down with the cold or flu, thus boosting sales in the pharmacies.
Also, the weather has not been the same across the entire U.S. California is already enjoying a warm spring, said Gold of Planalytics.
"The west is going to be a more favorable location this spring," he said. That means retailers with a larger concentration of stores on the West Coast may fare better than those in other regions.
(Source: CNBC, 03/31/13)