November Sales Prove a Retailing Turkey

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The nation's major retail chains today reported mostly disappointing sales results for November despite price-slashing promotions during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.

The weaker than expected results afflicted a wide variety of retailers — from discount giant Wal-Mart to high-end Nordstrom — and raised concerns about the prospects for the remainder of the holiday shopping season. Some analysts lowered their sales forecasts as a result of the November figures.

On Wall Street, stocks were mixed, with the Dow Jones industrial average posting a slight loss in early afternoon trading.

The lackluster November sales at many retailers were reported a few days after some research and credit card companies observed a significant jump in sales volume on the Friday after Thanksgiving, the traditional start of the holiday shopping season. But sales sagged on Saturday and ended marginally higher on Sunday, leaving many retailers disappointed.

The International Council of Shopping Centers said that November comparable store sales — sales results from stores open at least one year — rose 1.7% from the same month last year, according to news service reports. That was far below expectations and one of the smallest increases this year.

"It's a bad number," ICSC chief economist Mike Niemira told Bloomberg news service. "We have widespread weakness and comments from some retailers now that they'll step up promotional activity. They usually wait a little bit."

Wal-Mart, which warned of weaker than expected sales, reported an anemic 0.7% increase in November sales. The world's largest retailer had previously blamed high fuel and energy costs for siphoning away dollars from its customers.

The nation's second-largest discount chain, Target, fared better, posting a 3.2% gain in comparable or same-store sales, which was in line with expectations.

High-end retail chains continued to chalk up sales gains in November, but the increases were far more modest than in previous months. Seattle-based Nordstrom reported that same-store sales rose 3.1% last month. The owner of Saks Fifth Avenue reported a 2.4% increase in comparable store sales.

Specialty chains also had a tough time, with San Francisco-based Gap reporting a 4% drop in same-store sales. Last year, November sales rose 6%.

"Although customer response to holiday merchandise in October was initially promising, demand slowed in November," said Sabrina Simmons, head of Gap investor relations, in a statement. "As customers head into the peak holiday shopping period, we are closely managing our holiday promotions to offer compelling value."

In other economic news today, the Labor Department reported that first-time claims for unemployment insurance for the week that ended Nov. 27 rose by 25,000 to a seasonally adjusted 349,000. The more stable four-week moving average increased 4,250 to 336,500.

Times wire services contributed to this report.

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