It could be said Macy's (M 0.60%) was trying to underpromise and overdeliver after reporting fourth-quarter earnings that exceeded its previous dour forecast for the period.

After experiencing a worse-than-expected drop in third-quarter same-store sales in November, the retailer cut its annual profit and revenue guidance, and remained glum even when holiday sales weren't as bad as anticipated. 

Although the results it just released still weren't great -- sales, comps, and earnings were all well below last year's comparable figures -- Macy's beat the expectations it had managed to lower.

Macy's Herald Square

Image source: Macy's.

Still not very merry

The retailer reported full-year 2019 net sales of $24.6 billion, down 1.6% from last year, but better than the 2% to 2.5% decline it previously guided toward.

Similarly, Macy's reported comps on an owned and licensed basis dropped 0.7% from the year-ago period, which was ahead of the 1% to 1.5% decline that was forecast, while adjusted earnings of $2.91 per share handily beat the $2.57 to $2.77 per share it thought it would post.

Not that those are good numbers for the retailer, which like its many of its peers has been unable to adjust to the retail apocalypse gripping the industry.

Chairman and CEO Jeff Gennette said in a statement, "Taken as a whole, 2019 did not play out as we intended for Macy's, Inc." 

Earlier this month, Macy's announced it planned to close as many as 125 more stores over three years in an effort to regain its footing.