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Retailers report mixed November sales

Despite early signs that the holiday season was off to a solid start, the nation’s leading retailers reported mixed sales Thursday for the Thanksgiving weekend and all of November.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Despite early signs that the holiday season was off to a good start, the nation’s leading retailers reported mixed sales Thursday for the Thanksgiving weekend and all of November.

As merchants released the first solid sales numbers for the season, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. said it had a modest gain during the month. Rival Target Corp. recorded robust increases, but most department stores struggled.

Upscale retailers were among the strongest performers, with Saks Inc., Neiman Marcus Group and Nordstrom Inc. reporting sales that beat expectations. Gap Inc. continued its upward sales momentum.

“It is a mixed performance —even within categories — that underscores where we are in November, and probably through December,” said Michael P. Niemira, vice president of Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi Ltd.

He added, “What we actually need to see is that the middle- to low-end consumer start to step up purchases.”

The Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi’s same-store sales tally of 74 retailers was up 3.6 percent, a bit below Niemira’s forecast of a 4 percent gain. Same-store sales —or sales at stores opened at least a year — are considered a key indicator of a retailer’s health.

The results were somewhat disappointing after initial reports indicated the retail industry had an upbeat start to the critical holiday shopping season. The early results came from mall operators and analysts who were examining preliminary sales data. Niemiera said business on Friday and Saturday for most retailers was strong, but sales were weaker on Sunday.

Analysts and retailers went into the season with hopes that the improving economy would give sales a big lift.

Wal-Mart reported a 3.9 percent gain in same-store sales, matching Wall Street projections that were lowered after the discounter reported a modest start to the holiday season.

According to Thomson First Call, the original consensus had been for a 4.1 percent gain. Wal-Mart’s total sales were up 11.2 percent.

Target reported same-store sales were up 6.2 percent, reflecting stronger-than-expected business at its namesake discount stores. Thomson First Call anticipated a gain of 5.1 percent. Total sales were up 12.1 percent.

November results at Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Kohl’s Corp. were disappointing.

Sears reported same-store sales fell 3.6 percent; analysts had forecast a 1 percent gain. Sears’ total sales were down 3.2 percent.

“Overall, November results were below expectations and we are disappointed that the results weren’t stronger,” Sears chairman and CEO Alan J. Lacy said in a statement.

Kohl’s same-store sales declined 4.4 percent, more than the 3.1 percent decline analysts expected. Total sales were up 9.3 percent.

Federated Department Stores Inc. said same-store sales slipped 0.1 percent; analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call expected the retailer to report a 0.2 percent gain. Total sales were down 0.8 percent.

J.C. Penney Co. Inc. posted a 0.8 percent decline in same-store sales at its department stores for the four weeks ending Nov. 22, in line with analysts’ forecast for a decline of 0.4 percent. Penney noted the results did not include the “strong sales” for the Thanksgiving holiday week. Total sales were up 0.3 percent.

Upscale retailers reported strong results.

Saks, which operates luxury retailer Saks Fifth Avenue and such traditional department stores as Carson Pirie Scott and Proffitt’s, said same-store sales were up 6.7 percent, well past the 2.8 percent gain that Wall Street had anticipated.

Total sales were up 7.6 percent.

Neiman Marcus Group had a 5.8 percent same-store sales gain. Analysts had expected a 4.3 percent gain. Total sales up 6.1 percent.

Nordstrom posted sales that were up 7.4 percent, well exceeding the 3.9 percent gain that Wall Street expected. Total sales increased 10.2 percent.

Meanwhile, Gap Inc. recorded a 6 percent gain in same-store sales for the month, better than the 4 percent increase that Wall Street forecast. Total sales were up 7 percent.

Selected same-store sales for October for other leading retailers:

AnnTaylor Stores Corp., same-store sales were up 9.6 percent; total sales were up 20.1 percent.

May Department Stores Co., same-store sales were down 1.2 percent, excluding the remaining 30 stores that it previously announced it would divest. Total sales were up 0.2 percent.

TJX Cos., same-store sales were up 1 percent; total sales were up 10 percent.