The Norman Transcript

Local Business

February 6, 2010

Retailers post January gains as luxury rebounds

NEW YORK -- Stores received a pleasant surprise in January as shoppers bought a little more clothing at mall stores, delivering solid gains for many retailers and providing more hope that a spending recovery that started late last year is being sustained.

Still, the sales reports, released Thursday, showed two kinds of consumers -- ordinary folks who are buying a little more but still focused on bargains, and the affluent who are spending more freely on Gucci and other luxury brands as they feel encouraged by their rebounding stock portfolios.

Fourth-quarter profits look brighter, too, as Macy's and Bon-Ton Stores are raising their outlooks because they didn't have to discount heavily and saw sales improve.

"Retailers are breathing another sigh of relief," said Ken Perkins, president of RetailMetrics, a research firm. "There are more winners than losers." But he emphasized many shoppers were still tight with their pursestrings.

"The vast majority are still very focused on value and stretching every dollar. And that's not going to change for most of the year."

Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers, agreed, noting that consumers are "tiptoeing back though they haven't dramatically changed their shopping patterns."

The ICSC reported that January sales were up 3 percent compared with January 2009, following a 3.6 percent rise in December. The January figure is well above ICSC's forecast for a 1 percent gain. In January 2009, sales dropped 4.6 percent.

The numbers are based on sales at stores opened at least a year and are considered a key indicator of a retailer's health because it excludes the effects of new stores. The figures exclude Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world's largest retailer which stopped reporting its sales on a monthly basis last year.

Many mall clothing stores including Limited Brands, Gap Inc. and Macy's announced solid sales increases. Even Abercrombie -- Fitch, which had seen its teen customers defect to less expensive alternatives, saw a surprising sales increase, its first since April 2008.

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