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Q4 Proved To Be An Uneven Road For Chains

NEW YORK — It was a mostly shaky fourth quarter for retail chains, and CE sales contributed to that.

RadioShack, Sears and Systemax all reported lower fourth-quarter sales that were attributed to declines in consumer electronics, while Barnes & Noble saw its retail sales and revenue plummet 25 percent for its fiscal third quarter because of its struggling Nook business.

Target, meanwhile, enjoyed higher quarterly and yearly sales for its fiscal period, and Staples cited healthy tablet and e-reader sales as contributors to its overall sales gain.

RadioShack reported a net loss, slightly lower sales, and lower comp sales in the fourth quarter, and a net loss for the year, ended Dec. 31.

Total net sales and operating revenue were $1.3 billion, compared with $1.4 billion last year. Comp-store sales were down 7 percent, driven by a decline in the mobility and consumer electronics platforms, the chain said.

There was a net loss of $63 million, including the non-cash valuation allowance for deferred tax assets, compared with net income of $12 million last year. Operating income was $17 million, compared with $31 million last year.

For the full year there was a net loss of $139 million, including the non-cash valuation allowance for deferred tax assets, compared with net income of $72 million last year. Total net sales and operating revenue were $4.3 billion, compared with $4.4 billion last year. Comp-store sales were down 3.5 percent.

Operating loss was $61 million, compared with operating income of $155 million last year.

Sears stanched its sales and earnings freefall last year, although CE weighed heavily on its results.

Net losses for the fourth quarter, ended Feb. 2, were $489 million, compared with a year-ago loss of $2.4 billion, and net loss for the full fiscal year was $626 million, compared with $3.1 billion in 2011.

Sales declines also eased, slipping just 1.6 percent to $12.3 billion for the quarter, due in part to an extra sales week in the reporting period.

But any gains were offset by steep declines in the company’s CE business: Total U.S. comp-store sales slipped 1.6 percent during the quarter, but were essentially flat (down 0.2 percent) excluding electronics.

The category’s impact was most pronounced at Sears, where comps edged up 0.8 percent with CE, and rose 2.4 percent without it on strength in major appliances. At Kmart, total comps fell 3.7 percent and declined 2.5 percent excluding electronics, which experienced a “significant” decrease, the company said.

For the full year, total U.S. comps slipped 2.5 percent with CE, and 1.4 percent without it. Broken out by chain, comps declined 1.4 percent at Sears including CE and were flat (down 0.1 percent) without it, while Kmart comps declined 3.7 percent including the category, and 2.8 percent without it.

Target reported higher sales in its fiscal fourth quarter and fiscal year.

Target’s sales for its fiscal fourth quarter were $22.4 billion, up 6.8 percent from the prior year, and fiscal-year sales were up 5.1 percent year on year to $71.9 billion.

Comp-store sales in the quarter were up 0.4 percent.

Fourth-quarter net earnings were $961 million, down 2 percent from the prior year’s final quarter, but full-year net earnings were $2.99 billion, up 2.4 percent from the previous year.

Tablets and e-readers fueled a 3 percent sales gain for Staples in the fourth quarter, although earnings fell 68 percent due to one-time charges.

Profits at the No. 1 office-supply chain totaled $90 billion for the three months, ended Feb. 2, and net sales hit $6.6 billion, although the results reflect singular events and fiscal calendar changes. Excluding one-time charges for the closure of 15 U.S. and 45 European stores, plus other items, net earnings were $308 million, an increase of 8.5 percent.

Conversely, excluding an additional reporting week in the fourth quarter, total sales fell 4 percent year over year, to $6.1 billion.

As part of a strategic initiative launched last fall, the company combined its U.S. stores and online operations into a single business unit under North American retail president Demos Parneros. Sales for the new segment rose 3.1 percent in the quarter to $3.3 billion on growth in tablets and e-readers, which was partially offset by lower sales of computers, digital cameras and software. Comp-store sales sank 5 percent on a 5 percent decline in traffic and flat average order size, although sales at grew 7 percent during the quarter. Operating income also increased 7 percent, to $317 million.

Barnes & Noble posted an 8.8 percent fall in revenue, to $2.2 billion, and a net earnings loss of $6.1 million, compared with a $52 million gain during the same period last year. The Nook business took the brunt of the company’s quarterly pummeling with revenue falling 25.9 percent to $316 million.

Also reporting was IT reseller and multichannel retailer Systemax, with losses for the fourth quarter and full year on restructuring charges and weakness in its U.S. consumer business.

Losses totaled $27.1 million in the fourth quarter, ended Dec. 31, 2012, compared with net profit of $14.7 million during the year-ago period, and the company lost $8.3 million for all of 2012, compared with a $54.4 million profit in 2011.

The losses included a $35.3 million write-off from the consolidation of its CompUSA and Circuit City retail and e-tail operations under the TigerDirect brand and a $4.6 million write-down after exiting the computer manufacturing business.

Total sales fell 4.4 percent for the quarter, to $935.2 million, including a 12.1 percent decline in consumer channel sales, to $408.5 million, and consumer channel comp-store sales declined 11.3 percent.

For the full year, net sales slipped 3.7 percent to $3.5 billion, including a 14 percent decline in consumer channel sales, to $1.5 billion.