BJ's Wholesale Club (NYSE:BJ) needs to make up its mind whether it's a merchandise hawker or a weather forecaster -- because judging from yesterday's sales update, the company isn't doing great at either job.

The company combined its monthly sales update with an earnings warning on Thursday, talking back its earlier expectations of $0.25-$0.27 in per-share profits by about 8%-10%, but leaving its long-term projections in place at $1.85-$1.93 for fiscal 2005. The reason for the decreased Q1 expectations is also the reason for this column: the weather.

I don't know about the rest of you, but this Fool is getting pretty fed up with retailers constantly blaming bad weather for poor performance. The situation's gotten so bad that to maintain consistency, companies like BJ's are now finding themselves compelled to spell out when the weather has been good. As a result, their earnings updates are beginning to resemble mini weather forecasts -- and pretty useless forecasts at that, since they're one to three months out of date by the time they're released. I mean, just look at the contortions BJ's is putting itself through, just to explain away a $0.02 blip on its long-term earnings -- one that it doesn't even expect to affect its annual results:

  • Week one: "a severe snow storm affecting the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Georgia."
  • Week two: "two major storms in the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and Georgia."
  • Week three: (This one was apparently mild and pleasant, with highs in the upper 60s and a gentle breeze wafting in from the coast.)
  • Week four: "snow in the Northeast."
  • Week five: "cold and rainy weather in the Northeast for much of the week."

It's patent silliness, and for two reasons. First, companies shouldn't obsess over short-term performance but rather manage their business in the long-term interests of their shareholders. And second, investors shouldn't obsess over the short-term results, either, by dumping a company's stock when it "misses earnings" and bidding it up when it "beats by a penny." That just forces company management to conclude that blaming the weather is a good use of its time.

If we could all just stop this rain dance for a moment, a retailer might even have a chance to think of a solution to this bad-weather conundrum. In hopes that a respite will one day come, I'll proffer an idea: How about instituting "Rainy Day Sales"TM? Any time it rains or snows, give the customer an incentive to brave the storm. It might boost sales on bad days and eliminate BJ's need to spin its sales numbers every month.

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Fool contributor Rich Smith owns no shares of any company mentioned in this article.