U.S. chain store sales rise, but caution lingers

By Phil Wahba

Wall Street

Limited Brands <LTD.N>, the parent of Victoria's Secret, narrowly missed analysts' estimates with a 6 percent rise in sales at stores open at least a year and forecast a slower pace of gains for November, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Costco Wholesale Corp <COST.O>, the largest retailer reporting monthly results, also missed forecasts despite help from higher gasoline prices and shoppers' continued search for bargains. Its U.S. same-store sales rose 9 percent, but Wall Street was eyeing 9.8 percent.

Overall, 23 major U.S.-based retailers that report monthly results were expected to post a composite same-store sales gain of 4.5 percent, according to Thomson Reuters data.

Retailers are coming off a strong back-to-school season, suggesting that U.S. shoppers are growing more comfortable spending.

"Now going into the holiday season, consumers are going to start to be more selective," said Kurt Salmon retail strategist Megan Donadio. "They want to make sure they are getting value."

Consumer confidence was still low in October compared with historic levels, but did brighten a bit. And U.S. private employers added more jobs than expected last month, according to the ADP National Employment Report on Wednesday.

"What we're seeing right now is a surprisingly resilient consumer," said Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis for MasterCard Advisors SpendingPulse.

But October is the third-smallest month for sales, with shoppers taking a breather between back-to-school and the holidays.

Some retailers had a better-than-expected October. Teen retailer Zumiez <ZUMZ.O> reported a 3.3 percent gain, also above Wall Street's expectations.

But showing how the fortunes of teen retailers can diverge, Wet Seal's <WTSLA.O> comparable sales fell 9.7 percent, well below expectations, and the company lowered its quarterly profit outlook.

American Eagle Outfitters <AEO.N> said on Wednesday that its same-store sales were up 5 percent for the third quarter ended on October 29. It no longer reports on a monthly basis.

(Reporting by Phil Wahba in New York; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)