For Many Retailers, September Was Better Than Expected

Retail Reuters

Several U.S. retailers did a brisk back-to-school business, with September sales at stores open at least a year up much more than expected at chains such as Kohl's Corp and Nordstrom Inc.

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Overall, U.S. retailers are expected to post an average sales gain of 4.6 percent at stores open at least a year, or same-store sales, according to Thomson Reuters.

Of 14 chains tracked by analysts that had reported by early Thursday morning, eight beat expectations and six missed them, according to Thomson Reuters.

September is a particularly important time for retailers focused on children's and young adult apparel. Back-to-school shopping is the second-largest retail spending season behind the holiday period of November and December.

So far, holiday season forecasts have been tepid as the economy takes its toll on consumer sentiment. The National Retail Federation said Thursday that it expects sales in November and December to rise 2.8 percent, down from a 5.2 percent rise in 2010.

Sales figures were lifted as chains raised prices to offset higher commodity costs, but traffic slowed, a concern heading into the holiday season, said Joel Bines, a managing director of consulting firm AlixPartners.

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``By and large, they are shopping for necessities, sticking to their shopping lists and doing a good job of staring down retailers, demanding good prices,'' Bines said.

Chains such as Limited Brands Inc, Buckle and Zumiez Inc posted much better-than-expected jumps in September sales.

Macy's Inc, which operates its namesake chain and Bloomingdale's, did a bit better than anticipated. CEO Terry Lundgren said he was confident the company ``will continue to gain market share'' heading toward the holiday selling season.''

At Wet Seal Inc, which sells young women's clothing at its Wet Seal and Arden B chains, momentum was good through Labor Day weekend. Then things became challenging following the back-to-school peak.

Wet Seal's same-store sales slid 0.3 percent, below the rise of 3.8 percent analysts were expecting. Wet Seal said it expects quarterly sales to fall slightly short of its earlier forecast and its earnings could miss Wall Street's view.

Retailers are doing what they can to appeal to shoppers such as Joanna Polowitz, who said that she lost her job a month ago and thinks the economy is getting worse.

``I'm definitely holding back, only buying necessities, socks for my son, food because it's reasonable here,'' Polowitz said as she shopped at a Walmart in North Bergen, New Jersey, Wednesday. ``We're buckling down, not going to dinner as much.''

Target Corp's sales rose more than expected, in part due to a rush for the Missoni line it launched on Sept. 13. Childrens' clothing was a strong seller, including the Missoni items, among others, and sold out quickly.

Kohl's said it attracted more shoppers as it launched Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony clothing lines. The mid-priced department store opened 31 stores during September that were not included in its 4.1 percent rise in same-store sales, topping analysts' 2.2 percent estimate.

Same-store sales rose 4.4 percent in September, according to data released by the Johnson Redbook Retail Sales Index Tuesday. That index measures a sample of large general merchandise retailers.

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