Earnings' fate when Easter's late

Easter treats

Easter gifts are displayed in a Manhattan store on April 2, 2012 in New York City. 

Easter the holiday is sacred, of course. But Easter the shopping season is also sacred:

"Easter is one of the biggest consumer holidays for retailers," says Kathy Grannis with the National Retail Federation. "We're expecting about 16 billion dollars to be spent on everything on candy to decorations and even new apparel."

With one small detail: just a little bit later than usual. Easter is almost a month later than last year. It's one of those movable holidays, lunar calendar and all.

But quarterly earnings do not follow the lunar calendar. Easter was in Quarter 1 last year, and this year it will be in Quarter 2. So Quarter 1 earnings – and March earnings for that matter – were lower this year compared to last. Rite Aid and Walgreens have already reported that the late Easter has reduced their front-of-store sales for March. But Easter wasn't canceled. It was just pushed back – along with those earnings.

"When financial analysts fail to recognize the shift in the holiday on the calendar, they proclaim Q1 as being burdened with poor results, and then of course Q2 everyone looks like a genius," says Mark Cohen, professor of marketing at Columbia Business School.

Do people really make that mistake? "Believe it or not they make that mistake all the time," he says.

Although this year, for many retailers, Q1 looks bad because it legitimately was bad. "The weakness of the retail economy was a direct outgrowth of a very tough holiday season," says Cohen. There was extreme discounting in Q4, and while that did manage to boost business, it did so at a tremendous price. So the late Easter helped make earnings less than stellar, "but it's not the main reason."

On the plus side, the late Easter might actually be quite helpful. Michael Polzin, with Walgreens, explains "there's a better chance of warm weather, so that helps with things like easter egg hunts, decorations; it's easier to get into the spirit of a holiday if your little girl doesn't have to wear a coat over her Easter dress."

Easter often coincides with the start of the sales season for everything from apparel to patio grills, so there may be a small bump just by virtue of people getting out and about and feeling more like spring.

About the author

Sabri Ben-Achour is a reporter for Marketplace, based in the New York City bureau. He covers Wall Street, finance, and anything New York and money related.

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