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    April Was Cruel Month for BJ’s, Costco; Not So Bad for Target, Wal-Mart

    While big-box retailers BJ’s and Costco had a tough time in April as net and comparable-store sales tumbled during a time of economic recession and plummeting gasoline sales, Target managed to stem its recent sales declines and Wal-Mart actually saw higher sales during the month, driven by increased traffic and a strong showing in seasonal and discretionary items.

    While big-box retailers BJ’s and Costco had a tough time in April as net and comparable-store sales tumbled during a time of economic recession and plummeting gasoline sales, Target managed to stem its recent sales declines and Wal-Mart actually saw higher sales during the month, driven by increased traffic and a strong showing in seasonal and discretionary items.

    Natick, Mass.-based BJ's Wholesale Club, Inc. reported yesterday that sales for April 2009 fell by 3.2 percent to $719.0 million, from $743.1 million in April 2008. Comparable-club sales decreased by 4.9 percent for April 2009, including a negative impact from sales of gasoline of 10.4 percent, but excluding the impact of gasoline sales, comps grew 5.5 percent. Because of the timing of Easter, the April sales period included 27 days of sales in 2009 instead of 28 days last year, negatively affecting comps by about 2.0 percent to 2.5 percent.

    By comparison, for April 2008, comps increased by 17.8 percent, including a contribution from sales of gas of 5.5 percent. The extra day of sales during the Easter period had a positive impact on comps of about 4.0 percent in 2008.

    Additionally, on a comparable-club basis, food sales increased by about 7 percent, and general merchandise sales rose by about 3 percent. Departments with the strongest sales increases over last year included air conditioners, breakfast needs, candy, computers, dairy, deli, health and beauty, meat, frozen, household chemicals, ice cream, paper products, pet foods, prepared foods, produce, small appliances and televisions. Among the weaker departments vs. last year included automotive and tools, electronics, jewelry, sporting goods and summer seasonal.

    For the first quarter of 2009, BJ’s net sales grew by 0.3 percent to $2.26 billion from $2.25 billion for the first quarter of 2008. Comps slid by 1.5 percent for the quarter, including a negative impact from sales of gas of 9.0 percent. Comps for the quarter increased by 9.6 percent, including a contribution from sales of gas of 3.9 percent.

    Lower gas prices and a continuing drop in sales of discretionary items hit April sales and comps for Costco Wholesale Corp.

    The Issaquah, Wash.-based retailer reported sales of $5.18 billion for the four weeks ended May 3, a decrease of 6 percent from last year’s $5.54 billion. For the first 35 weeks of its reporting period ended May 3, 2009, the company saw net sales of $46.66 billion, down from last year’s $46.88 billion.

    Comparable sales for the four-week retail-reporting month of April were down 7 percent, and year-to-date are down 1 percent, both impacted negatively by gasoline deflation and foreign exchange.

    Meanwhile, Target Corp. posted a marginal 0.3 percent same-store sales increase in April, while its net retail sales for the four weeks ended May 2 were $4.45 billion, up 4.5 percent from the same period last year.

    The results were in line with the Minneapolis-based discounter’s expectations, which the retailer said should help it exceed first-quarter earnings projections. Other highlights of Target’s first-quarter performance included better-than-expected same-store sales and gross margins, favorable retail expense performance and credit card results that were in line with prior guidance.

    Target’s April results handily best those during the first two months of the company’s fiscal first quarter, which found same-store sales down 6.3 percent in March and 4.1 percent in February.

    Meanwhile, for the four weeks ended May 1, 2009, Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. reported that net sales increased 7.7 percent at its Walmart U.S. division, while falling 7.0 percent and 4.3 percent at the International and Sam’s Club divisions, respectively. Net sales for the total company rose 2.4 percent during the period, to $29.9 billion. For the 13 weeks ended May 1, Wal-Mart posted net sales increases of 5.8 percent and 0.4 percent at Walmart U.S. and Sam’s Club, while International’s net sales plunged 11.2 percent. Net sales for the total company edged up 0.9 percent during the period, to $96.1 billion.

    As for comparable-club sales, for the four-week period they rose 5.9 percent, 0.3 percent and 5.0 percent at Walmart U.S., Sam’s Club and total U.S. divisions, excluding the fuel impact. Factoring in the fuel impact, comps stayed level at Walmart U.S. and fell 5.4 percent and 1.0 percent at Sam’s Club and total U.S. divisions, respectively. Wal-Mart attributed the decrease in comps to lower gasoline prices.

    For the 13-week period, comps rose 3.6 percent at Walmart U.S., 4.2 percent at Sam’s Club and 3.7 percent at total U.S. divisions, excluding fuel, and stayed level at Walmart U.S. and went down 4.7 percent at Sam’s Club and 0.8 at total U.S. divisions, including fuel.

    The Bentonville, Ark.-based company said the higher comps were due in part to the Easter calendar shift, along with an acceleration of traffic and strength in seasonal and discretionary categories. The 13-week comp result exceeded Walmart's expectations for the period.

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