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December Dud: Same-Store Sales Disappoint — As Expected

NEW YORK — Consumers displayed a penchant for penny-pinching this holiday season, as the nation’s retailers Thursday reported same-store sale...

J.C. Penney Co. Inc.’s department stores comped up 4.7 percent for the month. All of the firm’s merchandise categories showed positive same-store results with particular strength in children’s, fine jewelry and home. Combined, November and December produced a 3 percent comp rise.

Comps at Dillard’s Inc. sank 4 percent. Same-store sales at Saks Inc.’s department stores slid 1.6 percent, while the firm’s luxury Saks Fifth Avenue unit dipped 3 percent. Fourth-quarter earnings at Saks, before certain items, are projected to be about flat with the year-ago take of 50 cents a share, before certain items, with operating margin improvement offsetting sales declines.

Neiman Marcus Group’s comps fell 2.8 percent. Nordstrom Inc. managed a 3.4 percent comp uptick for the month.

Regional department stores with shrinking comparable-store sales last month included Elder-Beerman Stores Corp. (down 1.6 percent), Gottschalks Inc. (1.6 percent) and Stage Stores Inc. (5.8 percent). York, Pa.-based Bon-Ton Stores Inc. managed to buck the trend with a 1.3 percent comp increase for December.



MASS MERCHANTS

When Wal-Mart Stores misses its initial sales plan, there’s little doubt that it was a tough holiday season.

The Bentonville, Ark.-based giant crossed the December same-store sales finish line with a 2.3 percent increase in its U.S. operations. At the beginning of the month, the firm had been looking for a 3 to 5 percent uptick, a projection later lowered to the 2 to 3 percent range ultimately attained.

Wal-Mart’s discount stores posted a 3.3 percent comp uptick, while comps at Sam’s Club fell 2.8 percent. "The holiday season started out slow and then picked up the weekend prior to Christmas," said a spokeswoman on a recorded call. "The streak continued for several days following the holiday and then leveled off." She also noted that inventories, while slightly higher than the firm would like, were manageable.

For January, the company is looking for a 3 to 5 percent comp increase at its flagship division and a slightly milder 2 to 4 percent rise for its overall U.S. retail operations.

Target Corp. also had a tough time in December. The firm’s overall same-store sales slid 0.3 percent and were "well below plan." The Target division comped up 1 percent, but was initially projected to rise 3 to 5 percent. Mervyn’s and Marshall Field’s comps slid 8.2 and 5.2 percent, respectively.
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