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Many retailers fall a bit short in December; Limited and Abercrombie shine in specialty sector

New York City -- After coming off a strong November, U.S. retailers found their momentum largely waned in December, with sales impacted by a still-cautious consumer, early discounting and a blizzard that crippled the Northeast in the days immediately after Christmas. But while many chains missed Wall Street’s heightened expectations for December, the retail industry still turned in its strongest holiday  performance since 2006.

The International Council of Shopping Centers said its index of December same-store sales rose 3.1% versus a year ago, short of the 3.5% rise expected by analysts.

The overall season was good, but the strength came from the beginning of the season," said Michael P. Niemira, chief economist, ICSC, in an Associated Press report. "This is kind of a wake-up call. It's back to reality."

Thomson Reuters, which tracks same-store sales for a group of 28 national chains, said total sales for the group were expected to post a 3.4% increase in same-store sales for December, following a 5.6% bump in November.

Still, if retailers hit the 3.4% mark, it would be the best showing since December 2006, when same-store sales rose 4.7%.

Strong online sales, which many retailers don't include in their monthly figures, also brightened the holiday spending picture as well. Consumers spent 13% more online this holiday season, ringing up a record $30.81 billion in spending, according to comScore.

On the apparel front, Limited reported a 5% rise in same-store sales, beating analysts’ expectations of a 4.6% gain, and Buckle, which recorded a 6.1% same-store sales gain, when a 4.5% gain was expected. Abercrombie & Fitch’s same-store sales soared 15%.

Among those that didn’t fare well in December was Gap, whose same-store sales dropped 3%, missing Wall Street expectations for a 2.6% gain. Net sales were flat at $2 billion.

By division, same-store sales at Gap North America stores fell 8%. At Old Navy North America stores the figure was down 2% International results declined 4%. The one bright spot was Banana Republic North America, where same-store sales edged up 1% in December.

American Eagle saw same-store sales plummet 11% and total sales fell 6%. Analysts expected a same-store sales decline of 1.7%.

In other apparel same-store results for December:

  • Aeropostale same-store sales slid 5%.
  • Urban Outfitters same-store sales were flat.
  • Zumiez same-store sales rose 9.2%, but missed Wall Street expectations of an 11.5% gain.