Retailers Expected to Meet Forecasts

From Associated Press

Although the nation's retailers didn't get their hoped-for sales blitz the week after Christmas, they're still expected to generally meet their modest holiday sales forecasts.

According to the International Council of Shopping Centers-UBS sales tally released Wednesday, sales slipped 0.8% for the week ended Saturday compared with the previous week and rose 2.9% compared with the same year-earlier period.

The tally is based on same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least a year, which are considered the best measure of a retailer's health.

Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers, said that Dec. 26, the day after Christmas, was very strong, but sales deteriorated after that.

Still, Niemira noted that same-store sales for December and for the November-December period were still on track to meet a modest growth forecast of 3% to 3.5%.

According to ShopperTrak RCT Corp., which tracks retail sales at more than 40,000 mall-based stores, sales slipped 2% for the week ended Saturday compared with the same period a year earlier. But the company said overall sales in December met its forecast for a 4.2% increase.

Meanwhile, the Johnson Redbook retail sales index, which monitors same-store sales of 9,000 retail units, reported that sales rose 2.6% for the final week of December compared with the same year-earlier period, resulting in a 3.4% gain for the month. That was slightly below the 3.8% forecast.

Catlin Levis, an analyst at Redbook Research Inc., said "many shoppers held on to their gift cards for later use."

Stores are counting on customers to redeem gift cards quickly in the weeks after Christmas to prop up profits and sales for the fourth quarter.

Gift card sales are recorded only when they are redeemed, so many stores made a big push to bring in new merchandise, hoping customers will buy regular-priced items.

Booming holiday gift-card sales raised hopes that more cards than expected would be redeemed during the week after Christmas, which could have helped boost December sales.

But that apparently didn't happen, and that means merchants will have to rely more on January to preserve profits and bolster sales.

Niemira estimated that 40% of holiday gift-card redemption took place in January last year.

The nation's retailers are to report final same-store sales results today.

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