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Retail sales have hale, hearty January

LOS ANGELES – Attracted by heavy winter sales and promotions, shoppers headed to the malls in January as retailers worked to clear their shelves in advance of the coming spring.

Major chain stores posted an impressive 4.2 percent sales increase in January compared with the same month a year earlier, handily exceeding analysts’ expectations of a modest 2 percent rise. Discounters and apparel sellers especially posted healthy sales increases, according to Thomson Reuters’ tally of 20 retailers.

Top performers were a mixture of high- and low-end stores. Action-sports chain Zumiez Inc. led the way with a 10.8 percent bump. Buoyed by a comeback of wealthy shoppers, luxury retailer Saks Inc. reported a strong 10.5 percent increase. Costco Wholesale Corp. said sales rose 8 percent. Limited Brands, parent company of Victoria’s Secret stores, had a 9 percent increase.

Other retailers did not fare as well. Teen clothier Wet Seal said sales fell 13 percent, while struggling apparel giant Gap Inc. reported a 4 percent drop.

All told, about 59 percent of retailers beat expectations, Thomson Reuters said.

Results are based on sales at stores open at least a year.

For many retailers, January is the last month of the fourth quarter and a time when shoppers go to stores to redeem gift cards.