Discounters and many other retailers report gains for December

New York City Initial reports indicate that shoppers opened their wallets in December to boost retailers’ crucial December store sales. Many chains reported sales that exceeded Wall Street’s modest growth expectations, leading numerous companies to boost forecasts.

Thomson Reuters, which tracks monthly same-store sales for 30 chains such as Costco, Target, Gap and J.C. Penney, expects overall December sales for the group rose 2%, compared with a 3.6% decline a year earlier.

Discounters reported the biggest increases as consumers continued to watch their budgets. At TJX Cos., same-store sales for December jumped 14%. Analysts, on average, had expected same-store sales to increase 5.6%. Total sales for the five weeks ended Jan. 2 were up 21%, to $2.9 billion. The company raised its fourth quarter and full-year guidance on the results.

Carol Meyrowitz, president and CEO of The TJX Cos., stated, “With strong sales and margins in November and December, we are significantly raising our guidance for the fourth quarter. With our value proposition, very broad demographic reach, and ability to respond rapidly to customers’ changing tastes, we are very confident in our growth prospects for 2010 and beyond.”

At Costco Wholesale Corp., higher gasoline prices and a weaker dollar helped boost the chain’s same-store sales 9% in December, beating Wall Street's expectations. Same-store sales at its U.S. locations increased 5% while international sales surged 25%.

Total December sales grew 11% to $8.26 billion.

Kmart continued to show signs of life during the critical holiday season, reporting a 5,3% increase in same-store sales. The figure helped its parent company, Sears Holdings Corp., which reported 0.4% increase in overall December same-store sales. (Sears stores, however, did not fare as well, with a 4.3% decline in December.)

Other discounters reporting December same-store sales included:

  • Target reported a 1.8% increase in same-store sales for the five weeks ended Jan. 2. The chain said sales were strong during the crucial holiday month in categories ranging from toys to food.

Analysts expected sales in stores open at least a year to fall 0.2%. Total sales rose 5% to $9.74 billion.

  • BJ's Wholesale Club said that same-store sales rose 4.8%, narrowly beating analysts’ estimates. Some of the company's strongest categories included breakfast foods, frozen foods, cigarettes, clothes and electronics. Among the weaker categories were jewelry, televisions, toys and trash bags.

Total sales grew 9.4% to $1.16 billion for the five weeks ended Jan. 2.

  • Fred's said its same-store sales rose 1.3% as customer traffic improved and its pharmacies filled more prescriptions. Sales were also helped by an expanded layaway program.

Total sales for the five weeks ended Jan. 2 rose 4% to $209.3 million from $201.4 million.