Just last week, we received a lukewarm holiday sales report from MasterCard Inc. (MA) that had the bears predicting that this could be the worst holiday season in four years. Now, those commentators have had to change their tune—today, 17 retailers released much better than expected same-store sales for December. In total, sales jumped 4.5% for the month, topping the 3.3% consensus estimate.
For the most part, the biggest winners were select bargain retailers—it’s clear that American shoppers want more bang for their buck:
- Costco Wholesale Corp. (COST) grew same-store sales by 9% thanks to higher gasoline prices and stronger international currencies.
- Both TJX Cos. Inc. (TJX) and Ross Stores Inc. (ROST) posted 6% same-store sales growth—above the consensus estimate.
Interestingly enough, not all discounters fared well—while Americans are cost conscious, it still appears that they still demand quality goods:
- Target Corp. (TGT) reported flat sales, compared with the 0.8% consensus estimate.
- Kohl’s Inc. (KSS) has lowered its fourth-quarter earnings outlook due to deeper-than-expected discounts. December same-store sales advanced 3.4%.
- Family Dollar‘s (FDO) margins were hit by its new strategy of selling more premium items like cigarettes and soft drinks. So same-store sales slowed from 6.6% growth last quarter to 2.5% growth this quarter.
We also saw strong results from Gap Inc. (GPS) and Nordstrom Inc. (JWN) while Limited Brands Inc. (LTD) and Wet Seal Inc. (WTSLA) both gapped down after reporting disappointing same-store sales.
In related news, the December data for U.S. car sales have just come in and it’s official: 2012 was the best year for auto sales since the recession. Analysts estimate that Americans bought 14.5 million vehicles in 2012, a 13% jump over 2011. This is also the largest jump in auto sales in 28 years! This isn’t a huge surprise, given that the auto industry has been heating up for the past several months, but it’s still an exciting development.
So no matter what the bears say, I’m going to continue to let the economic data speak for itself.