Retail sales up modest 0.8% in September

After splurging on back-to-school, shoppers took a break from the malls in September in advance of what is expected to be a decent holiday season.

Major chains posted a 0.8% increase in retail sales in September compared with the same month a year earlier, slightly below analysts’ expectations of a 1.6% rise, according to Thomson Reuters’ tally of 19 retailers.

“The holiday season will be a solid success but won’t have numbers off the charts,” said Barbara Kahn, director of the Jay H. Baker Retailing Center at the University of Pennsylvania. “August and September together shows continued moderate growth. Consumers have been shopping.”

Top performers were a broad mix of stores. Discount chain Costco Wholesale Corp., clothing giant Gap Inc. and off-price retailer TJX Cos. all reported a strong 6% jump. Action-sports teen retailer Zumiez continued a long streak of good performances by rising 5.6%. And Limited Brands, parent company of Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works, saw sales increase 5%.

Other retailers posted weak results. Struggling teen clothier Wet Seal, which is fending off efforts by an activist shareholder to remake its board after more than a year of falling sales, reported its sales slipping 12.7%.

September has traditionally seen the last weeks of back-to-school shopping, the second-most-important time of the year for retailers (after the winter holidays), accounting for more than 10% of the industry’s annual sales. But this year many parents and kids reported spreading out their shopping to earlier in the summer and later into the school season.

Target Corp. which posted a 2.1% increase, said it would stop reporting monthly sales figures beginning with its 2013 fiscal year. Many retailers, including Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and J. C. Penney, have stopped reporting monthly figures.

Results in the Thomson Reuters survey are based on sales at stores open at least a year, known as same-store sales and considered an important measure of a retailer’s health because it excludes the effect of stores’ openings and closings.


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