Chico's June Follows Suit

Chico's FAS (NYSE: CHS  ) , the specialty retailer of casual-to-classy women's apparel, posted a 7.3% decline in June comps on Wednesday morning, knocking its shares for a loop. Its stock has dropped 7.4% since Tuesday's close, and it declined last Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday despite the market rally.

Total sales at the women's chain, which includes its namesake locations, its White House/Black Market stores, and Soma Intimates shops, increased 4.4% in the five-week period ended July 7. Total sales growth benefited from a larger relative store count.

The company reported same-store sales using both fiscal and comparable time periods. According to the company, the "fiscal" period is year over year (the periods start at different times), while the "comparable" period compares the exact same weeks during both years.

On a fiscal-year basis, same-store results fell 11%. On a "comparable" basis, same-store sales dropped 7.3%. The differences most likely stem from the timing of holidays like Memorial Day and Independence Day within the five-week periods. But no matter how you look at it, clothes aren't flying off the hangers right now at Chico's.

While Chico's provided no same-store guidance for it to miss, this Fool speculates that the weakness in the entire women's apparel segment may have inspired a shift of capital into hotter sectors. Peer AnnTaylor Stores (NYSE: ANN  ) experienced a sharper drop-off of 8.4% in the period. We certainly can't attribute the weakness to market-share loss, since rival department-store chains also exhibited weakness. Kohl's (NYSE: KSS  ) reported a 4.9% same-store decline, while at Macy's (NYSE: M  ) and J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP  ) , sales dropped 2.7% and 1.5%, respectively.

With strength reported in discount chains, speculation abounded that perhaps consumers were making fewer trips to the mall, and doing more "commute shopping" instead -- purchases made between trips to and from work. With gasoline prices choking consumers, among other expenditures, many observers believe that shoppers are paying more attention to their gas tanks these days, and enjoying less discretionary spending.

In a recent Fool phone interview, Chico's CFO Charles J. Kleman told me that we should look to the fall for the first signs of same-store sales improvement, as new merchandise hits the racks. This Fool thinks investors are likely more focused on the shares' own recent fall and can't see that far ahead.

Further fashionable Foolishness:

Fool contributor Markos Kaminis has no ownership interest in any of the companies discussed here, but his dear momma shops at Chico's. The Fool's disclosure policy is always en vogue.


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