Old Navy is winner of the third-quarter MVP award at Gap Inc. Retail analysts credit the division with driving an unexpected 20% year-over-year sales increase at the troubled retail company.

Last month, Gap Inc. reported third-quarter same store sales were up 11% versus a 17% decline last year, representing significant improvement on a one-, two- and three-year basis for September and the company's best same-store sales to date in 2002. Same-store sales for the company were up a substantial 20% for October 2002.

Old Navy's third quarter same-store sales were up an impressive 24% versus an 18% decline last year, also showing a big jump on a two-year basis for September. Old Navy owes its success to an aggressive ad campaign versus none last year, says Thomas Wiesel Partners specialty retail analyst Anne-Marie Peterson, in her report on Gap Inc.'s earnings announcement.

But traffic is still down at Gap, Old Navy and Banana Republic, and Peterson doesn't believe the sales revival will last long. “While the improvement in sales trends this month is clearly encouraging at Old Navy, we do not believe these trends are sustainable. Also, the overall comp on a two-year basis is still negative. Old Navy's improvements were driven by increased advertising spending, limiting flow-through of solid comps to the bottom line.”

And a soft holiday season could derail the turnaround even sooner, says Legg Mason analyst Holly Gustafson. “Progress at the company could be slowed if holiday sales are disappointing. The season is already hampered by having Thanksgiving five days later this year versus 2001. Gap has shown that it is clearly on the right track with its ‘back-to-basics’ strategy, but it still faces some challenges.”

Across the board gains

The company's Old Navy brand outperformed its sister divisions for October 2002 and third quarter 2002:

Division Oct. 2002 Oct. 2001 Q3 2002 Q3 2001
The Gap +11% -17% +2% -17%
Gap Domestic +1% -17% -2% -17%
Gap International +5% -13% +2% -13%
Banana Republic +6% -15% +1% -13%
Old Navy +24% -18% +6 -18%
Source: Wedbush Morgan Securities & company reports