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November numbers mildly disappointing for retailers

Fri., Dec. 4, 2009

WASHINGTON – The hordes of Black Friday shoppers weren’t enough to save retailers from dispiriting November sales, according to company data released Thursday.

About 30 national chains reported monthly sales at established stores on Thursday, a key measure of the industry’s health. Several chains, including Costco and J.C. Penney, performed worse than analysts expected. Retailers said that unseasonably warm weather dampened sales at the beginning of the month. In addition, shoppers saved their firepower for post-Thanksgiving deals.

“It was a month that disappointed us and, I think, the industry,” said Michael Niemira, chief economist for the International Council of Shopping Centers, a trade group.

The ICSC showed industry same-store sales – which measures results at stores open at least a year – fell 0.3 percent in November from a year ago, reversing two months of solid growth.

Department stores fared the worst, plunging 4.5 percent. At Macy’s, where sales dropped 6.1 percent, executives said they expect some of November’s sales to shift to December because of changes to its promotional schedule and because December includes an extra selling day. Still, the company acknowledged that traffic the weekend after Thanksgiving was weaker than expected despite a strong Black Friday.

Discount stores once again performed better than other retail sectors, pulling off a 0.6 percent increase in November sales, according to ICSC. TJX, which owns TJ Maxx and Marshall’s, jumped 8 percent, while Kohl’s sales rose 3.3 percent.

But Target reported that sales declined 1.5 percent in November, below the cheap chic retailer’s expectations. Still, chief executive Gregg Steinhafel said the number of transactions increased and online sales were strong, encouraging signs for the remainder of the holiday season.

November sales results for the entire retail industry, which are expected on Dec. 11, could paint a rosier picture, Niemira said. Wal-Mart, the world’s largest retailer, does not report monthly same-store sales and has been a strong performer in the economic downturn.

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