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Gap Inc. (GPS - Analyst Report) registered a 2% decline in comparable store sales (comps) for the four-week period ended April 28, 2012, versus an increase of 8% in the prior-year comparable period.

For the first quarter ended April 28, 2012, the company reported a 4% rise in comparable store sales against a 3% decline in the first quarter of 2011.

Net sales in April 2012 totaled $1.15 billion, flat compared to the prior-year period. Net sales for the first quarter jumped 6% year over year to $3.49 billion. The spike in first-quarter sales resulted from continued strong performance of the spring products across all of the company’s brands.

Comps for the month of April 2012 and the first quarter of 2012 remained positive at all of Gap’s segments, except International.

April comps at Banana Republic North America inched up 1% in contrast to an 11% increase recorded in the prior-year period. The company’s same-store sales at Old Navy North America grew 6% compared with a 14% increase in the year-ago period. Gap North America’s same-store sales were up 4% versus a 2% rise in the prior-year period. However, results at its International segment dipped 6% compared with a 1% decline in the prior-year period.

For the first quarter, comps at Banana Republic North America rose 5% versus negative 1% comps in the year-ago quarter. Similarly, comps at Old Navy North America and Gap North America also recorded positive comps of 4% and 5%, respectively, as compared to 2% and 3% declines last year. However, comps at the International segment declined 4% compared with a 6% decline in the prior-year quarter.

Given the strong sales and comps performance, Gap has guided earnings per share in the range of 44 cents – 46 cents for the first quarter. The current Zacks Consensus Estimate for the first quarter is 39 cents per share.

Furthermore, on the back of strong sales, the company trimmed its first quarter for inventory dollars per store guidance to come in below the earlier forecast, which was expected to be about flat on a year-over-year basis.

Gap is scheduled to release its first-quarter 2012 earnings results on Thursday, May 17, 2012.

On the same day, two other Apparel store retailers Ross Stores Inc. (ROST - Analyst Report) and Nordstrom Inc. (JWN - Analyst Report) reported positive same-store sales for the month of April 2012. Comps growth at Ross was 7% in April, while Nordstrom recorded a 7.1% rise.

We believe that Gap’s long-term strategic moves along with disciplined cost management measures will not only provide financial flexibility, but will also help to drive value proposition. Moreover, Gap’s globally recognized brands complement one another, enabling it to leverage its position in the sector.

Currently, Gap’s shares maintain a Zacks #2 Rank, which translates into a short-term Buy rating. Our long-term recommendation on the stock remains Neutral.

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