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Luxe Continues Rebound As High End Tops Comps, Dwarfing Middle Ground

The high-end crowd sustained its strong performance in October, but much of the rest of retail simply was unable to keep up September’s strong pace.

NEW YORK — The better did best.

The luxury and designer crowds sustained their strong performance in October, but much of the rest of the retail marketplace simply was unable to keep up the strong pace set in September.

Leading the way, Saks Fifth Avenue Enterprises logged a 14.2 percent increase last month. But its performance, in the final month of the stewardship of chief executive officer Christina Johnson, stood in vivid contrast to the Saks Department Store Group, which, with a 2.1 percent decrease, shared the unfortunate lot of many moderate department stores.

Neiman Marcus Group was up 9.7 percent for the month, following its 13.6 percent gain last month, and Nordstrom managed a 3.5 percent rally.

Halloween supplied a volume treat to a number of stores, such as Wal-Mart and Hot Topic. The strong reaction to the October holiday left many optimistic, or at least hopeful, that upbeat predictions for the Christmas season can still be realized.

But, after a strong September, last month — characterized by weather more fitting for shorts than sweaters, as well as by California wildfires — was a letdown, one that left analysts searching for explanations.

“I hate to give credence to weather, but the weakness in cold-weather products was so widespread this month it is hard to ignore,” Dawn Stoner, a specialty retail analyst with Pacific Growth Equities, said. “When companies like Pacific Sunwear of California, which has been knocking the cover off the ball month after month, see comps in guys’ fleece positive 30 in September to negative 2 in October, you have to think there is something external going on.”

Of the 50 companies monitored by WWD, only slightly more than a third — 17 — finished October with increases, one was flat and 32 had decreases, the worst performance by the group since last March.

Overall, the Goldman Sachs October monthly index of same-store sales inched up 2.4 percent, below the 3.1 percent expected and the 2.5 percent reported last year. Dominated by Wal-Mart and its strong Halloween results, discount stores were the only group to post positive results, increasing 5.3 percent versus GS’ 5.1 percent estimate and last October’s 4.3 percent increase.
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