Retail sales are up for the first time in 13 months

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Retailers last month posted their first uptick in sales in more than a year, helping trigger a rally on Wall Street despite nagging concerns that consumers aren’t ready to fully open their wallets just yet.
The September sales were better than expected, with major department stores J.C. Penney, Macy’s and Nordstrom all reporting smaller-than-expected declines. Chains including Kohl’s, T.J. Maxx and Ross even posted healthy increases.

At the same time, analysts warn that a recovery is still months away and said the 0.6% increase in monthly sales was largely due to easy comparisons against September 2008, when industry sales plummeted, and a later Labor Day that pushed much of back-to-school spending into the month.

Some economists viewed September’s slight improvement in retail sales as a hopeful sign. If the stock market holds up and the housing and job markets don’t worsen, they say, the holiday shopping season could surprise on the upside – and could be better than expected and add important impetus to the recovery. “Most companies are very worried about consumers, and they’ve been reluctant to hire and invest because they believe consumers will trounce the economic recovery,” said Lynn Reaser, chief economist at Point Loma Nazarene University in San Diego. “If they see signs that consumers are coming out of their holes, they’ll be more encouraged.”

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-- Andrea Chang and Don Lee