Christmas Sales Prove Better Than Expected

From Associated Press

The 1987 Christmas shopping season was more successful than expected for the nation's largest general retailers, according to sales figures announced today. But some stores had a rougher time than others.

"It turned out to be a satisfactory season, certainly not a strong one, but far, far from a bust," said Monroe H. Greenstein, a retail industry analyst with the investment firm Bear, Stearns & Co. Inc.

Greenstein estimated that overall sales were up more than 6% last month from December, 1986.

The fears of many retailers and Wall Street analysts that this would be a disastrous Christmas were not borne out for the most part. Those fears began to surface as consumer spending proceeded sluggishly for much of the year, and they intensified after the stock market crashed Oct. 19.

Early Markdowns

But those fears helped retailers bring in business.

"The stores were very concerned," said Jeffrey B. Edelman, an analyst with Drexel Burnham Lambert Inc. "They began talking markdowns early, they began to promote early and they got the sales."

Christmas shopping is crucial for retailers, who earn up to half their annual profits during the holiday season.

But it was not a good time for some stores, particularly specialty apparel retailers.

Drop at Limited Inc.

That slump was reflected in the performance of Limited Inc., which said its comparable store sales--those of stores open for at least a year that thus provide a basis for a comparison--fell 2% last month, although the company's overall sales were up 7%.

Retailers themselves gave hints of how difficult the season was. Sears, Roebuck & Co. Chairman Michael Bozic said December sales "nearly matched our expectations despite the most competitive Christmas season in history."

Sears, the nation's largest retailer, reported its sales rose 4.9% in December over the same month of 1986. K mart Corp. reported comparable store sales rose 5.7% in December.

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