- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 6, 2003

Here is a look at more of Thursday's top business stories:

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Sales drop 9.4 percent at Sears

HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill., March 6 (UPI) — Sears, Roebuck and Co., the nation's fourth largest retailer, said its same store sales, or sales at stores open at least one year fell 9.4 percent during the four week selling period ended March 1 as winter storms forced the company to close about 130 stores.

The retailer said its total sales for the period fell 7.9 percent, to $1.7 billion from $1.9 billion for the four weeks ended March 2, 2002.

The retailer said sales were hurt by severe winter weather on the East Coast during the President's Day weekend, which forced the closure of about 130 stores as well as key distribution centers.

Revenue also reflected a "shift in promotional activities away from February and into March, as well as the continuing effect of certain category exits during the past year," Sears said.

Sears said full-line store sales included double-digit percentage growth in fine jewelry and high-single digit percentage growth in footwear, while specialty stores showed a mid-single digit decline.

Sears last Friday fell from the ranks of single-A-rated companies after Standard & Poor's cut its rating to triple-B-plus, citing problems at the company's credit-card business. The move affected about $11 billion in debt outstanding and brought S&P;'s credit rating about in line with those from Moody's Investors Service and Fitch Ratings.

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Circuit City Stores lifts earnings outlook

RICHMOND, Va., March 6 (UPI) — Circuit City Stores Inc. has raised its fiscal fourth-quarter earnings forecast despite a 5 percent decline in sales, mainly because costs for several initiatives were lower than expected.

Circuit City Stores, which warned early last month that its fourth-quarter profit would be about half of Wall Street's forecast, now expects earnings from continuing operations to total 33 cents to 36 cents a share, rather than the 21 cents to 26 cents a share it previously predicted.

Analysts on Wall Street expect the company to report earnings from continuing operations of 28 cents a share for the fourth quarter, according to Thomson First Call.

The company also said that Chief Financial Officer Michael T. Chalifoux, who also serves as executive vice president and corporate secretary, plans to retire after 20 years at the company.

Circuit City said he agreed to stay on until a replacement is found, which it said will likely occur before the company's annual meeting in June.

Circuit City, which posted a 10 percent drop in February same-store sales, said a soft economy and continued declines in average retails across many product categories hurt fourth-quarter sales.

Alan McCollough, chairman, president and chief executive officer, said, "Our fourth quarter sales reflect the soft economy and continued declines in average retails across many product categories.

"For the quarter, continuing consumer interest in new technologies resulted in solid sales gains in digital projection televisions, plasma and LCD televisions, portable audio and mobile electronics," said McCollough.

"Sales of DVD movies and video game software remained strong throughout the quarter, reflecting a number of hot title introductions. Sales of digital satellite systems and wireless phones, which carry higher-than-average gross profit margins, declined for the quarter, as did sales in the personal computer category, McCollough added.

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Sales fall at May Department Stores

ST. LOUIS, March 6 (UPI) — May Department Stores Co. said its February same-store sales fell 8.9 percent, blaming weak consumer spending and the winter storms that affected a wide portion of the East coast of the country.

The retailer said its total sales for the month fell 7.5 percent to $846 million from $914.3 million last year.

During the President's Day snowstorm, May Department closed more than 100 stores in its Lord & Taylor, Hecht's, Strawbridge's and Filene's divisions.

Looking ahead to fiscal 2003, May Department said it plans to open 11 new department stores and 30 David's Bridal stores.

The company currently operates 443 department stores and 180 David's Bridal stores, 235 After Hours Formalwear stores and 10 Priscilla of Boston stores.

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Sales rise at Dollar General

GOODLETTSVILLE, Tenn., March 6 (UPI) — Dollar General Corp. said its February same-store sales rose 2.5 percent and total sales for the four week selling period ended Feb. 28 rose 11.2 percent to $476.3 million from $428.4 million last year.

The company said severe winter storms hurt February sales, although growth was led by the home cleaning and food department, the health and beauty-aides department and the hardware, toys and stationary department.

Dollar General said the average customer purchase for the month rose to about $8.54 from $8.31 last year.

Looking ahead to March, the retailer said for the five-week March selling period ending April 4, it expects total sales to increase 11 to 13 percent. Same-store sales are expected to increase 3 to 5 percent compared with a same-store sales increase of 6.9 percent in the March period last year.


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