Retailers Post Steep Sales Declines in October

New York City U.S. retailers on Thursday reported the weakest October sales since at least 1969, amid a financial crisis that has kept shoppers away from the stores. The decline in sales from an already weak September performance further darkens the outlook for the holiday season.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. proved to be among the few bright spots as shoppers continue to focus on buying basics. But other discounters did not fare so well. Even warehouse-club operator Costco Wholesale Corp. posted disappointing results.

According to the International Council of Shopping Centers-Goldman Sachs index, sales fell 1%, the weakest October performance since 1969 when the index began. That compares to a 1% gain in September and well below the 1.8% average pace so far this fiscal year, which for retailers begins in February. Excluding Wal-Mart, the October sales number was down 4.6%. The index is based on same-store sales, or sales at stores opened at least a year, which are considered a key indicator of a retailer's health

Wal-Mart posted a 2.4% gain in same-store sales, beating Wall Street projections for a 1.6% gain. Including fuel sales, same-store sales rose 2.5%.

At Sam's Club, its warehouse-club division, fresh food, dry groceries and other consumables were strong. Weaker categories included electronics, jewelry and home-related products, the company said.

Target Corp. posted a 4.8% drop, worse than the 2.8% decline that analysts had expected. Costco, hurt by currency effects, reported a 1% decline in October. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected a gain of 3.6%.

TJX Cos. said Thursday its same-store sales fell 6% in October, more than analysts predicted, as international results were hurt by a stronger U.S. dollar.

TJX said results were hurt by the "precipitous drop" in foreign-currency exchange rates vs. the U.S. dollar. Excluding the drop in exchange rates, same-store sales fell 1%.

TJX said despite the results, traffic is up across most of its divisions and it is gaining market share.

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