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Most retailers gain in September comps

New York -- Cheered by lower gas prices and more disposable income, consumers flocked to the malls and released a lot of pent-up demand during September, pushing same-store retail sales unexpectedly higher. The Johnson Redbook Flash Report, which tracks same-store sales at 62 major retailers, rose by 4.0%, easily topping a year-ago gain of 2.8% and a 2.9% increase in August.

The biggest winner by far, with no one else even close, was Kohl's -- which clearly hasn't heard that consumers are pulling back elsewhere -- where same-store sales jumped up a riveting 16.3%.

Carriage-trade retailer Saks Fifth Ave. pushed its comps up a heady 11.1%, twice the size of the August increase of 5.0%. TJX shot up by 9.0%, far above its 4.0% gain the month before. JCPenney pushed its comps up by 8.7% following an anemic gain of 0.7% the prior month. Target rose by 6.7%, twice the size of last month's 2.8% increase. And Federated soared by 6.2%, way ahead of the August increase of 3.8%.

Wal-Mart sales softened somewhat, rising by 1.3% -- half of the 2.7% increase a month ago. All three warehouse clubs reported slowing sales: Costco up 4.0% vs. 7.0% last month; Sam's up 1.1% vs. 3.4% in August; and BJ's down by 0.9%, reversing a 2.3% increase in August. Ditto the dollar stores: Dollar General up a skimpy 0.5% vs. last month's jump of 4.8%; and Family Dollar up by 2.2% vs. 4.0% last month.

One retailer that doesn't get much love these days is Pier 1; same-store sales continued their slide, falling 10.1%. But merchants there can take heart -- at least they're outperforming Sharper Image, where same-store sales plunged 21.0%.  For a chart of September sales at key retailers, click here.

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