Were The Gap's Poor Results Really Due to the Weather?


After the market close on May 22, 2014 shareholders in The Gap (NYSE: GPS  )  got their latest glimpse into the apparel and accessories retailer's performance. Unfortunately, the results from the owner of such brands as The Gap, Banana Republic, and Old Navy left much to be desired. Like many other retailers and restaurants, The Gap blamed the harsh winter weather throughout most of the United States for its 22% drop in net income. This reason -- harsh winter weather kept customers inside their homes and away from the company's stores -- begs the question: Is this reasoning truly why a great retailer performed poorly, or is it just an excuse by a company going through tough times?

A disappointing performance
For the quarter ended May 4, 2014, net sales grew by just one percent to $3.77 billion from $3.73 billion in the same quarter a year ago. In addition, net profit for The Gap fell to a disappointing $260 million, or $0.58 per diluted share, from $333 million, or $0.71 per diluted share, for the quarter ended May 4, 2013. To make the results even more upsetting, comparable-store sales declined 1% from the previous year. In a corporate press release covering the results, The Gap noted that in addition to the harsh winter weather keeping customers away, foreign currency fluctuations also affected its performance.

How the competition stacked up
When trying to decide if The Gap made a reasonable statement in blaming winter weather for the drop in net profit, it helps to see what other retailers are saying about their results for that period. Fortunately for Foolish investors, a number of The Gap's major competitors have already reported their results for their first quarters of fiscal 2014.

The TJX Companies (NYSE: TJX  ) , a discount retailer of fashionable brands particularly at its flagship T.J. Maxx and its Marshalls stores, reported a slight increase in net income to $454 million from $454 million a year ago with just a two cent gain in earnings per diluted share for the quarter of $0.64. . Unfortunately for The Gap, the quarterly release by The TJX Companies makes no mention of harsh winter weather conditions in regard to its small profit gain, although the company did acknowledge that foreign currency fluctuations played a part in the lack of profit growth.

Teen apparel retailer and competitor American Eagle Outfitters  (NYSE: AEO  ) also made no mention of winter weather conditions impacting its performance goals in its first-quarter release. The retailer, however, is experiencing a number of problems with its brand-name stores. In fact, American Eagle Outfitters suffered a dramatic drop in earnings per share of around 90% to just $0.02 for per share for its latest quarter compared with $0.18 per share last year.  In a press release put out by American Eagle Outfitters detailing the results, CEO Jay Schottenstein said that the "Results were consistent with our expectations. The quarter reflected weak sales and increased markdowns...".Unfortunately for The Gap, it looks like its competitors are seeing something different out there, and not blaming the weather for their lack of earnings.

Winter weather picking on The Gap
Is it possible that winter's unpredictable cold temperatures and snowstorms were picking on The Gap's stores and not those of its competitors? It seems difficult to believe but that might just be the case. Numerous nationwide restaurants like McDonald's have cited the weather as a reason for lackluster sales in the quarter. Also, it seems that foreign currency losses were a large reason for the lack of profitability in this past quarter, as The Gap noted in its release that "...the impact from foreign currency fluctuations reduced the first quarter fiscal year 2014 earnings-per-share growth rate by approximately 5 percentage points."  

Lastly, management seems to believe that harsh winter weather was the reason for the drop as well. Despite its 22% drop in net income for the quarter, The Gap's management reiterated its full-year guidance, maintaining its view that earnings per share would come in at $2.90 to $2.95 per share. Since the company saw disappointing results in its first quarter but still maintained its annual guidance, it clearly expects a bounce back throughout the rest of the year.

Foolish takeaway
While it's tough to imagine that the winter season is picking on The Gap, shareholders should give the company the benefit of the doubt. The company noted that as the weather warmed up slightly toward the end of the quarter customers returned to its stores and that, paired with the reiteration of guidance for the full year by management, means that investors should give management a pass on this quarter. While The Gap had a rough start to the year, long-term investors shouldn't be concerned as the company's business seems intact for the time being. 

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