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Economy, hurricanes unkind to retailers in September   

New York – Retailers did not fare well in September, and home departments in general did not break out of the year-long doldrums.

With the Yom Kippur holiday tomorrow, many retailers reported September sales results a day early.

Food, consumables, health and wellness – and children’s clothing – were the categories Wal-Mart said were “strong” or “positive” in U.S. stores during the five-week retail month. Home departments were not mentioned.

Overall corporate sales at Wal-Mart were up 5.8% to $36.2 billion. Sales at U.S. Wal-Mart stores rose 4.8% to $22.8 billion, with a comparable-store gain of 2.0%. The comp gain at Sam’s Club was a robust 7.4%, yielding a 2.8% comp gain in the United States.

Target saw sales rise 2.5% to $5.32 billion, but comps slipped 3.0%. President and ceo Gregg Steinhafel said results were “below our expectations” and played it safe on projections: “On balance, we currently expect 2008 full year earnings per share to meet or exceed last year’s full year EPS of $3.33.” 

JCPenney saw volume drop 10.9% in September to $1.45 billion, with comparable store sales down 12.4%. The big mid-tier retailer cut its third quarter outlook from 70-75 cents per share to 50-60 cents per share.

Kohl’s sales edged up 0.6% to $1.34 billion, while comps fell 5.5%.

Sales of $299.4 million were off 2.7% at Bon-Ton; comps fell 4.6%. The 281-store department store retailer did manage a positive comment on home textiles. Tony Buccina, vice chairman and president - merchandising, said, “As the weather became more seasonal, categories such as outerwear, cold-weather accessories, boots and seasonal soft home posted strong results.”

Department store operator Dillard’s recorded a sales slide of 12% (comps fell the same amount) to $568.5 million. The company allayed about one-fourth of that decline to the effects of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

Softlines specialty chain Stein Mart reported a sales falloff of 11.9% to $112.0 million, and a comp drop of 14.8%. The company cited “gifts and linens” as the month’s “most challenging businesses.” Stein Mart, a 280-unit Southeastern retailer, said it “lost a total of 111 store selling days” due to the effects of Hurricanes Gustav and Ike.

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