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Discounters deliver small gain

NEW YORK — Held back by suddenly weakening sales at the nation's big discounters in the aftermath of Hurricanes Bonnie and Charley, same-store retail sales edged up 1 percent during the third week of August, slowing from an increase of 2.3 percent the preceding week, the Johnson Redbook Index reported.

Taking the entire Redbook Index down for the week, sales at mass merchants hit the wall, limping up just 0.8 percent following stronger gains of 3.3 and 3.6 during the first two weeks of the month.

In a striking reversal of recent sales patterns, department stores outperformed their discounter peers, with sales jumping 1.3 percent, improving on a 0.3 percent increase the week before.

Measured on a month-over-month basis, sales fell 1 percent below July levels, coming in beneath a targeted decline of 0.4 percent.

Redbook Analyst Catlin Levis said, "The third week saw the largest performance shortfall so far this month. Sales were substantially below plan and the gap widened between actual results month-to-date and retailer expectations. Hurricanes Bonnie and Charley had a negative impact on sales overall. Some retailers also believe that a later Labor Day may be delaying back-to-school activity, and the fourth week of August is not expected to deviate substantially for that reason. The back-to-school impact will be easier to assess next month."

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