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September Sales Reflect Struggling Economy

New York City Wal-Mart Stores and warehouse clubs were the only bright spots in September as skittish shoppers increasingly cut back on non-essential purchases.

"This is not a significant comfort going into the holiday season," said Ken Perkins, president of research company RetailMetrics LLC, in an Associated Press report. "Everybody across the board is feeling it. Even discounters are going to have a tough go. Consumers are going to tighten their purse strings even more."

Wal-Mart posted a 2.4% increase in September same-store sales, shy of the 2.5% increase many analysts expected. The discounter said hurricanes caused 341 stores to temporarily close and hurt same-store sales by 0.4 percentage point. Total September sales rose 6% to $36.23 billion.

Meanwhile, same-store sales jumped 7% at Costco Wholesale Corp., less than the 7.5% increase analysts expected.

BJ's Wholesale Club Inc. reported its September same-store sales rose 10.4%, boosted by higher demand for both merchandise and gasoline. Total sales rose 11.8% to $892.8 million. Excluding gasoline sales, traffic increased about 4% and the average transaction amount increased by about 1%, the company said. Food sales rose about 10%.

For the first nine months of this year, the company said its same-store sales rose 12.6%, while total sales increased 15% to $6.58 billion.

Same-store sales at Target fell 3% in September. The retailer cut its earnings outlook as it grapples with a surge of customers defaulting on the company's store credit-card payments. Target said it could miss third-quarter expectations amid a challenging sales environment. Total sales for the five-week period rose 2.5% to $5.32 billion.

Kohl's Corp. said its same-store sales dropped 5.5% in September, beating Wall Street's consensus forecast, while lowering expectations for its third-quarter earnings release. Total sales for the five-week period ended Oct. 4 rose 0.6% from the comparable period in 2007.

For the year-to-date period, same-store sales fell 5.6%, while total sales rose 2.4%.

Among teen retailers, Pacific Sunwear of California Inc. had a 5% drop, better than the analysts' target.

American Eagle Outfitters Inc. had a 6% drop, worse than the 5% decline projected. The company said total sales for the year-to-date, 35-week period ended Oct. 4 increased 2% to $1.87 billion, compared to $1.85 billion for the 35 weeks ended Oct. 6, 2007. Same-store sales were down 7% for the year-to-date period.

Other specialty-apparel retailers also struggled. Mothers Work Inc. said Wednesday that same-store sales fell 1.3% in September due to the closing of Sears leased departments and a calendar shift.

Children's Place Retail Stores Inc. said same-store sales for September were flat compared with the same month last year.

Cache reported a 6% decline in its same-store sales.

Bakers Footwear Group reported a 4.1% increase in September sales.

The situation was especially grim for mall-based apparel and department stores.

J.C. Penney reported a 12.4% drop in same-store sales, even worse than the 9.9% decline that analysts had expected. The company cut its earnings and sales outlook for the third quarter.

The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. said its same-store sales fell 4.6%, better than the 6% decline analysts predicted. Same-store sales at Dillard’s slid 12%.

Luxury retailers also were down. Saks Inc. said same-store sales in September fell 10.9%, a worse drop than analysts expected. For September, the strongest categories at Saks Fifth Avenue were jewelry, fragrances and cosmetics. The weakest categories were women's apparel and men's clothing and dress furnishings.

The company said the challenging economic environment will continue for the rest of its fiscal year. It expects same-store sales for the second half of its fiscal year will be worse than its previous expectation of flat to a low-single digit decline.

Nordstrom Inc. said Wednesday its September same-store sales dropped 9.6%, blaming the ongoing turmoil in the financial markets. Analysts has expected a same-store sales decrease of 7.1%. Total sales fell 5.8% to $718 million from $762 million in the same month last year.

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