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Retail sales slow; hope seen for holidays

Shoppers gave stores a 3.9 percent sales gain

Shoppers gave stores a 3.9 percent sales gain in September, less than August’s 6 percent growth, but analysts saw continued spending as an encouraging sign for stores this holiday season. (April 27, 2012) Credit: Bloomberg

Americans may have slowed their spending in September after splurging during the start of the busy back-to-school shopping season in the month before. But most importantly, they were still spending.

September sales rose 3.9 percent -- a slowdown from the 6 percent rise in August -- as 22 retailers like Macy's and Costco reported mixed results, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Still, given the economic and political uncertainty that weighs on many Americans, analysts say the results are an encouraging sign for stores as they head into what's traditionally the busiest shopping period of the year in November and December.

"This should set up to be a good holiday season," said Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics Llc, a research firm.

Retailers' monthly sales figures are based on revenue at stores opened at least a year. That measure, considered an indicator of a retailer's health because it excludes results from stores recently opened or closed, offers insights into how Americans are spending during the slow economic recovery.

But only a handful of merchants representing about 13 percent of the $2.4-trillion U.S. retail industry report monthly revenue. And that list is dwindling: Target Corp. Thursday said it will end monthly reports starting next year.

Target was among retailers reporting results that fell short of analyst expectations. The discounter said its sales gain of 2.1 percent was slightly below analysts' expectations. Macy's posted a 2.5 percent increase last month, while analysts polled by Thomson Reuters had expected a 3.3 percent rise.

Meanwhile, Costco Wholesale's 5.7 percent gain put it among the merchants that posted results that beat Wall Street estimates.

September's results offer hope for retailers as they head into the holiday shopping season, when they can make up to 40 percent of their annual revenue. It's the latest sign consumers are feeling a little better about the economy.

Confidence is at a seven-month high as people are feeling better about rising home prices and a rebounding stock market. Still job growth remains weak, and prices for everything from food to gas are higher.

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