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Retail 'soft' in mid-Jan. reports

Hampered by weakness at the nation's department stores, same-store retail sales growth softened somewhat during the second week of January after a strong run-up the week before, with sales advancing by 1.5 percent, compared to a prior-week increase of 2.0 percent, according to the Redbook Retail sales Average.

Department store sales, returning to their recent historic form, declined by 2.3 percent, following a relatively strong performance the week before, when they slipped a modest 0.5 percent. Sales at discounters strengthened, climbing by 3.8 percent and improving on a 3.5 percent increase the preceding week. For the two weeks month-to-date, overall retail sales were meeting targets, with a gain of 1.8 percent.

"Sales growth declined slightly from the previous week," said Redbook analyst Catlin Levis. "Performance eased at department stores and firmed at discount stores, bringing overall results more into line with retailers' January plans."

Scoping out the month, Levis said, "Department stores are typically volatile in January as they work through the annual clean-out of winter inventory and drive sales by pricing and advertising. Discount stores, on the other hand, returned to a more normal environment.

Levis noted, "Some retailers said their average ticket and traffic were both positive, generally seen as a favorable sign of consumer demand. Cool-weather merchandise moved better than it had during the warm pre-Christmas weeks, helped by suitable temperatures and traditional January clearance sales. Since January is a traditional month with low-volume business driven by price markdowns as merchants discount goods to clear holiday inventories, sales-leader lists were mixed from store to store. Business in health and beauty aids, selected hard lines such as toys and electronics as well as certain apparel categories were helped by seasonal promotions."

On a regional basis, Levis said sales strength was reported in the Northeast and Midwest.

Redbook Retail Sales Average
Second week of January

Week ended 1/11 1/18 1/25 2/1 Month Target
*Including chain stores and traditional department stores.
Source: Redbook Retail Sales Average, a unit of Instinet, a Reuters company.
Department stores* -0.5 -2.3 -1.4 -1.2
Discounters 3.5 3.8 3.7 3.6
Redbook average 2.0 1.5 1.8 1.8


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