Macy's Earnings Impress and Disappoint

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Macy's (NYSE: M  ) reported quarterly earnings on Wednesday, and the company told investors a lot of what they needed to hear. Higher profit, increased market share, and boosted full-year guidance were all welcome bits of information for investors to digest as we head into the critical holiday shopping season.

But Macy's also announced that it would be sharing less from here on out. Joining a long list of retailers, the company is discontinuing its reporting of monthly sales figures. That's an unfortunate trend for the data crunchers among us who think there's no such thing as "too much" financial information.

Good earnings
More on that in a moment, but first let's look at those earnings.

Macy's reported a hefty expansion of operating income last quarter, to 5.4% of sales versus the 5% logged in the year-ago quarter. That profit boost was powered by a strong 3.7% rise in same-store sales. The company kept an impressive growth streak intact, booking its 11th straight quarter of higher sales and earnings.

Macy's also took one potential worry off investors' list: Hurricane Sandy. CEO Terry J. Lundgren said the company believes it will "continue to grow sales and earnings in the fourth quarter, even taking into account a recovery from Hurricane Sandy that will cause stress to consumers and our employees in the Northeast and Mid-Atlantic regions."

To that point, Macy's boosted guidance for the year, saying that it now expects to earn between $3.35 and $3.40 per share. That's up a nickel from previous guidance and well ahead of the $3.25 the company had forecast at the beginning of 2012. It also means that shares are trading for less than 12 times this year's earnings, making Macy's one of the cheapest retailers around.

Tell us more
Now, on to the part of the earnings report that was much harder to like: "Macy's announced today that it will discontinue reporting monthly sales, beginning in fiscal 2013, consistent with the practice of most other retailers. Sales will continue to be reported quarterly, along with earnings and cash flow."

Macy's is right to point out it has good company in this move. Target (NYSE: TGT  ) won't be reporting monthly sales figures starting next year , either. Struggling competitor J.C. Penney (NYSE: JCP  ) hasn't been providing those numbers to investors since December 2011. And the biggest retailer of them all, Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) , stopped sharing those data points as of May 2009. These companies have argued that monthly data can be volatile, and that a quarterly perspective is more consistent with a long-term focus, both for them and for investors.

Still, count me as one investor who would prefer that the monthly data reports keep coming. I've never been swayed to buy or sell a retailer based on short-term results. But the extra level of detail is useful in ferreting out trends, both within the company and in the industry as a whole. So my view is that it's too bad Macy's is joining the crowd here. When it comes to financial information, the more, the better.

The story of J.C. Penney is long and full of colorful history; incorporated in 1913, the company has suffered alongside the nation through many recessions over the last hundred years. Now the company faces unprecedented challenges and struggles to regain profitability. Investors have to wonder if its century-long story is about to come to an end. In order to answer this question, one of our analysts has compiled a premium research report with in-depth analysis on whether you should buy or sell J.C. Penney right now, and why. Simply click here to get instant access to this premium report. 

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