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Retailers Report Mixed November Results With PM-Retail Sales-Table Graphic

December 6, 1991

Undated (AP) _ While the nation’s major retailers reported varying sales results for November, they shared a common problem: Consumer caution.

The sales figures announced Thursday underscored concerns about the holiday shopping season that kicked off last month, although the numbers were not as disappointing as some retailers had feared.

″Most stores had fair increases,″ said Edward Johnson, a retail industry analyst with Lynch, Jones & Ryan.

He noted the strongest gains were recorded by retailers who marked prices down heavily and by discount stores, factory outlets and off-price stores.

Terence McEvoy, an analyst with Janney Montgomery Scott Inc., called the November figures ″better than the bears expected, but nothing to write home about.″

Several retailers reported business was brisk over the Thanksgiving weekend - the traditional start to the Christmas season. Bargain-hunting consumers responded to special sales and markdowns, but retailers also described customers as very cautious and conservative.

Struggling Sears, Roebuck and Co. reported its business improved as customers were drawn into stores by its Christmas marketing campaign. But at Dayton Hudson Corp., sales ″were consistent with the fall season to date,″ said President Stephen Watson, referring to the industry’s overall sluggish trend.

The nation’s largest retailer, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., continued to outperform other merchants.

McEvoy said sales over Thanksgiving appeared to be good, although they were weak when compared with the results of stronger economic times.

Retailers went into the Christmas season with lowered expectations after the weak economy and worries about unemployment made consumers reluctant to spend in recent months. The stores expected to rely on markdowns and specials to lure shoppers.

″This year’s holiday season is clearly more competitive,″ Watson said.

Consumers interviewed around the country the day after Thanksgiving said they expected to spend cautiously this Christmas, and many said they would buy fewer or cheaper gifts.

McEvoy predicted industry-wide Christmas sales would rise between 2 percent and 3 percent from last year’s depressed levels.

Such an increase would mean the retailers will break even with last year after adjusting for inflation, which has been running at an annual rate of 2.7 percent this year.

McEvoy said sales have declined since the weekend, a normal dropoff as many consumers do their shopping on the weekends. The last 10 days are expected to be the busiest of the season.

The raw figures reported by the retailers are somewhat misleading because of a shift in the calendar. Thanksgiving occurred a week later this year than in 1990, meaning this year’s figures were skewed negatively by seven fewer holiday shopping days.

Johnson said viewing November and December sales together would give the clearest picture of the season.

Kmart Corp. said sales at its stores open at least a year were down 2.1 percent, while business at all of its stores rose 3.2 percent.

Analysts and investors believe sales from stores open at least a year - also known as same-store or comparable store sales - are a better yardstick of a retailer’s performance than overall sales. New stores tend to have extraordinarily strong sales that can distort a retailer’s results.

Kmart’s reporting period ends earlier than other retailers, so its sales do not reflect the start of the Christmas season.

The company, which opened some of its stores on Thanksgiving, said early holiday sales were good. ″Our sales were up nicely over Thanksgiving weekend sales last year,″ chairman Joseph E. Antonini said.

Wal-Mart reported a 13 percent jump in same-store sales and a 39 percent rise overall.

Sears said its same-store sales were up 2 percent and its overall results rose 0.8 percent.

Dayton Hudson said its same-store sales were off 3.6 percent, while overall sales rose 2.7 percent.

J.C. Penney Co. Inc. said its apparel sales were up over last year, but its slumping catalog operation took a toll on the rest of the company’s business. Penney said same-store sales for both its catalog and store operations were up 0.1 percent, while overall sales gained 1.2 percent.

May Department Stores Co. reported a 5.4 percent drop in same-store sales and a 1.7 percent overall slide.

Specialty apparel retailer Limited Inc. said its same-store sales were unchanged from a year earlier, while overall business rose 13 percent.

Gap Inc., a standout like Wal-Mart, said its same-store sales rose 8 percent, while overall results were up 24 percent.

The results reported Thursday differ from the monthly retail sales report from the government, which includes sales from supermarkets, restaurants and car dealers.

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