Back-to-School Buying Helps Retailers

New York City, Consumers returned to the malls in August for a late back-to-school buying spree, helping many retailers rebound from July’s sluggish pace. But analysts are still worried that the weakening housing market and higher food and gas prices will curtail shopping in the critical months ahead, according to the Associated Press.

As the nation’s retailers reported solid sales results Thursday, winners crossed all sections of the industry and included Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Target Corp., Pacific Sunwear of California and Saks Inc.

August’s results were helped in part by a growing trend among schools to start classes later, delaying back-to-school purchasing. Teens usually wait to do the bulk of their shopping until they see what their friends are wearing. Last month’s business was also boosted by a shift in a tax-free sales week to August in two critical states, Florida and Texas.

Wal-Mart posted a 3.1% increase in August same-store sales, helped by strong sales of back-to-school items. Wal-Mart said electronics, school supplies and children’s apparel were among the top-selling categories. It also said sales of laptops and calculators did well, as families prepared for later school start dates in some states such as Florida and Texas. The company said increased price-cutting also helped boost sales of such items as bedding, bath towels, and plastic storage and organization items.

Target also posted strong results for August, turning in a 6.1% gain in same-store sales, better than the 5.0% estimate.

Luxury stores again did well as shoppers splurged on status handbags and other expensive items. Saks Inc. reported a robust 18.2% gain in August same-store sales. Nordstrom Inc. posted a 6.6% gain in same-store sales.

Macy’s Inc. posted a 2.4% gain in same-store sales, but the company said same-store sales could be down as much as 3% in September, compared to the year-ago period, when business was boosted by the company’s nationwide brand launch.

Gap Inc. had a 1% drop in same-store sale, less than the 2% decline analysts expected.

AnnTaylor Stores Corp., citing improving sales at both its namesake stores and its lower-priced LOFT division, posted a 2.9% gain in same-store sales in August. Limited Brands Inc. had a modest 1% rise in same-store sales, below the 1.4% forecast.

Teen retailers scored a strong rebound from sluggish results in July. Wet Seal Inc. reported a 1.7% gain in same-store sales, better than the 0.6% estimate. Abercrombie & Fitch had a 6% gain in same-store sales, while Pacific Sunwear posted a 9.6% gain.

On Wednesday, J.C. Penney Co. reported a 4% drop in same-store sales, though results were better than the 5.3% decline Wall Street expected. Penney said monthly results were distorted by a change in the calendar that moved sales from the first few days of August into the July reporting period, when same-store sales jumped 10.8%.

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