L Brands, Costco report weak November sales



NEW YORK — Costco Wholesale Corp. and Victoria’s Secret parent L Brands Inc. were among a handful of retailers that posted weak sales in November on Thursday.

The period included part of the Black Friday shopping weekend, which is the traditional kickoff to the holiday shopping season. Many stores opened on Thanksgiving for the first time in an effort to be the first to pull in holiday shoppers in a still tough economy.

The sales figures are based on a key gauge of a retailer’s health because it excludes results from stores recently opened or closed.

Costco and L Brands Inc. joined other retailers like teen retailer The Buckle and discounter Fred’s Inc., which posted sluggish sales for November. But the struggles experienced by two of the strongest merchants in the industry underscore the fiercely competitive environment.

Only about 10 retailers report monthly sales and the list no longer includes Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp., and Macy’s Inc., which now only release their sales on a quarterly basis.

Analysts closely watch the November and December period since the two months combined account for anywhere from 20 percent to 40 percent of retailer’s annual revenue.

“These reports show that they’re going to be in for a bigger dogfight than they had expected,” said Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics, a research firm. “They’re going to have to step up sales.”

Ron Friedman, head of the retail and consumer products group at accounting firm Marcum LLP, noted it was the most promotional Black Friday weekend he had ever seen with many stores offering 50 percent off.

Costco’s sales at stores open at least a year rose 2 percent in November

The Issaquah-based retailer’s performance was the weakest since September 2009 when the wholesale club operator posted a 1 percent increase.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters predicted a 3.3 percent rise in the metric for November. The results cover the four weeks ended Dec. 1, which included Black Friday this year.

Costco currently runs 648 warehouses worldwide, including 461 in the U.S. and Puerto Rico.

L Brands, the parent of Victoria’s Secret and other chains, said that sales at stores open at least a year dropped 5 percent in November. That was a bigger decline than Wall Street expected and the biggest drop since October 2009 when the retailer posted a 4 percent decrease for that measure.

Analysts forecast a 1.1 percent drop for the company formerly known as Limited Brands.

L Brands Inc. said that the results were for the four weeks ended Nov. 30. That includes Black Friday, but doesn’t include the entire holiday shopping weekend.

The retailer noted that profit margins were down compared with a year ago as it had to step up promotions.

L Brands runs 2,660 specialty stores in the U.S. Its brands are sold in about 800 additional company-run and franchised locations worldwide.

Last month, the Columbus, Ohio company reported that its third-quarter profit rose 25 percent, beating Wall Street’s view. It provided a modest full-year earnings forecast.

L Brands’ shares slipped 75 cents to $62.50 in afternoon trading, while Costco’s stock fell $1.86 to $121.11.