Halloween Spooks October Sales

New York City, The outlook for the holiday shopping season grew bleaker Thursday after retailers announced disappointing October sales results due to consumers’ ongoing worries about housing and higher energy prices, according to the Associated Press.

The downbeat news came from all sectors including mall-based apparel stores such as Limited Brands Inc. and department stores. Even upscale Nordstrom Inc. posted a rare sales decline, while Wal-Mart Stores Inc. posted sales below expectations despite its aggressive discounting heading into the holidays. Target Corp., however, fared well in October, posting a 4.1% gain in same-store sales, above the 2.5% forecast.

Milder-than-normal weather also continued to hurt store sales, wiping out consumers’ appetite for winter wear. Amid such challenges, many stores including Wal-Mart and Toys “R” Us Inc. aimed to jump-start the season early this year by offering door busters and big discounts starting last weekend. But shoppers don’t seem to be in a hurry to buy.

Wal-Mart posted a 0.4% gain in same-store sales, below the 1.1% gain expected by analysts polled by Thomson Financial. Wal-Mart said sales of Halloween merchandise were solid across all departments, but seasonal categories related to cold weather including apparel and home furnishings were weak. The company forecast that same-store sales growth will be no more than 2% in November.

Among department stores, Nordstrom, which reported a weaker-than-expected 3.2% same-store sales gain in September, posted a 2.4% drop in October.

Macy’s posted a 1.5% decline in same-store sales, worse than the 0.6% projection.

J.C. Penney Co. had a 1.8% decline in same-store sales in its department store business; analysts expected a 0.6% increase. Penney stuck with its third-quarter outlook but reduced its sales expectations for the remainder of the year to reflect the weak spending environment. Fourth-quarter same-store sales are expected to decline in the low single digits.

Kohl’s Corp. posted a 3.8% drop, dragged down by weak sales in weather-sensitive businesses such as outerwear, fleece and sweaters. Analysts expected a 0.5% gain.

Limited had a 6% drop in same-store sales, worse than the 1.6% drop Wall Street had expected. Meanwhile, Gap Inc. had an 8% decline in same-store sales, worse than the 4.5% forecast.

Pacific Sunwear of California Inc.’s 0.8% decline in same-store sales was worse than the expected 2.8% increase. Some retailers managed to buck the trend. Saks Inc., which operates Saks Fifth Avenue, posted a 10.6% gain in same-store sales, well-exceeding the 5.4% estimate.

Costco Wholesale Corp. had a 9% gain in same-store sales, well-exceeding the 5.7% estimate. Results at the company, which sells gasoline at its warehouse stores, were somewhat inflated by an uptick in gas prices in October, from a year ago. Excluding gas price inflation, sales would have been up 5%. BJ’s Wholesale Club Inc. said food and gasoline sales drove its same-store sales 4.8% higher in October, above analysts’ expectations.

Christopher & Banks Corp. said Thursday that October same-store sales surged 22%, well-above Wall Street forecasts, driven by results from the company’s first friends-and-family promotion. Buckle Inc. said Thursday its same-store sales jumped 14.9% in October.