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Holiday home sluggish at TJX Cos. Stores

FRAMINGHAM , Mass. Holiday is getting off to a slower-than-usual start this year, TJX Companies President and CEO Edmond English said during the company's third-quarter conference call this morning.

For the first time in recent years, holiday-themed home goods are experiencing sluggish sales, which he attributes to delayed consumer spending.

"We are seeing a bit of a slowdown in the holiday motif-related goods, but it could be a little too early to call since the buying seems to be happening later this year," explained English, adding that holiday sales were weak thus far at HomeGoods, TJ Maxx and Marshalls.

"This is the first time we are seeing pure holiday motif in home as slow. It's a category that has been growing for us so we've been chasing it for some time," he added, noting that holiday apparel sales have been very strong.

English continued that customer reaction has prompted HomeGoods to move more aggressively into more furniture, rugs and soft home. "The home business is more of a sourcing game, but the average ticket is up a little bit, even if it is skewed by increasing sales of high-ticket items that have been doing well, mainly furniture, lamps, wall décor and rugs," he described.

Subtle merchandising changes will be made at HomeGoods in terms of products offered in the front and middle of stores, but overall English said the company really likes the way the stores look. "The inventory is very fresh with a good mix of products," he said.

According to English, TJX Companies feels good about its open to buy as it gets ready to close out this year. Inventory levels are up 1 percent at The Marmaxx Group and 3 percent overall at the company. "We have great confidence in achieving our goals by the end of the year. In addition, our Web sites for TJ Maxx and HomeGoods are open and ready for business, which should help holiday shopping," he added.

Net sales for the third quarter were $3.8 billion, a 13 percent increase over last year, with consolidated comp store sales increasing 4 percent over the prior year. Net income was $201 million, or 41 cents per share, up 14 percent.

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