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04.23.2014

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January 7, 2013 12:01 AM

Business

A Clean Slate, but the Same Story?

The New Year arrives with a relatively clean slate for fashion.The Burches have buried the hatchet, fresh faces are in place and finding their footing at Saint Laurent and Christian Dior and changes to the U.S. tax code helped push...

The New Year arrives with a relatively clean slate for fashion.

The Burches have buried the hatchet, fresh faces are in place and finding their footing at Saint Laurent and Christian Dior and changes to the U.S. tax code helped push through a number of deals that had been lingering.

BDT Capital Partners and General Atlantic bought a stake in Tory Burch, Irving Place Capital invested in Rag & Bone, Fast Retailing Co. acquired J Brand, Gap Inc. scooped up Intermix, TJX Cos. Inc. took on Sierra Trading Post to ready its e-commerce business, Diesel chief Renzo Rosso took a majority stake in Marni and on and on.

And even though the pressure continues to bear down on J.C. Penney Co. Inc.'s Ron Johnson, there might be some light at the end of the tunnel. Penney's has just about completed a year under its new layout. At the very least, year-ago comparisons will begin to get a lot easier.

It looks like there'll be a holiday hangover since so many chains cut prices to clear goods, but even that shouldn't be too bad. Retailers have gotten good at doing more with less since the recession and are generally working with leaner inventories.

So what to think about 2013?

All of the same stuff is going to be important. The Web will continue to take market share, outlets will continue to outperform, strong retailers will get stronger and young brands will pedal furiously as they dream of hitting it big like Michael Kors.

The problem with 2013 is that it might be a rerun of 2012 and just be kind of blah.

The economy really isn't moving ahead, and there are plenty of things -- budget talks in Washington, the recession in Europe, the slowdown in China -- that could trip it up.

Retail is about hope, though, and spring is right around the corner.

The last two years we've seen big bumps in spring sales. And the first quarter last year was a blowout for retail stocks, enough to basically keep the sector ahead for the rest of the year.

I wouldn't be surprised if that sales bump came again as the weather grows warmer. It looks like it was a pretty lousy Christmas, so people might want to live a little.

The question is, if a spring bounce comes this year, will consumers and retailers be able to hold onto the momentum, or will it peter away into another crisis somewhere in the world?

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