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Retail sales slip during September

Retail same-store sales continued to weaken moving through September, and fell by 1.0 percent during the fourth week of the month, forcing retailers across the nation to adjust downward their growth targets for the month and the third quarter.

The Redbook Retail Sales Average declined by 1.0 percent during the fourth week of September, turning negative after a small 0.6 percent gain the prior week. Sales have lost ground steadily through September, after the month got off to a robust start with a 2.2 percent increase.

Both discounters and department stores were feeling the squeeze during the fourth week of the month, with both channels of distribution missing their sales targets. Department store sales were especially hard hit, falling by 7.3 percent on the week, and for the four weeks month-to date had slipped by 3.5 percent, deeper than a forecast decline of 2.3 percent.

Sales at mass merchants grew by 3.1 percent during the week, well off the 4.7 percent growth rate during the first week of September. Month-to-date, discounter sales are up a slender 3.9 percent, falling well short of a targeted increase of 4.7 percent.

Gauging the two channels combined, month-to-date same-store sales edged up a skimpy 1.0 percent, compared with a target of 2.0 percent sales growth.

"Sales continued to drift further below plan in the fourth week," said Redbook retail analyst Catlin Levis. "One or two retailers indicated sharp differences between targets and actuals, leading some to say they were scaling back their internal targets for the month. Most companies in the model were either below plan month-to-date or at the lower end of planned ranges, following a slow and steady downward trend throughout the month."

Some retailers, Levis noted, "said they were comparing unfavorable year-ago comps, which were boosted by the spending of tax rebate checks. Others believe consumers are also being inhibited by political uncertainty, a slowing economy and the negative wealth effect from falling stock prices."

As if all that weren't enough, Levis noted, "Retailers and manufacturers may face a disruption of deliveries ahead of the holiday season due to the West Coast dock workers lockout."

Breaking sales results out on a regional basis, Levis said "sales growth was strongest in the West, followed by the Midwest and the East."

Redbook Retail Sales Average
Fourth week of September

Week ended 9/7 9/14 9/21 9/28 10/5 Month Target
*Including chain stores and traditional department stores.
Source: Redbook Retail Sales Average, a unit of Instinet, a Reuters company.
Department Stores* -1.5 -1.6 -3.7 -7.3 -3.5 -2.3
Discounters 4.7 4.3 3.4 3.1 3.9 4.7
Redbook Average 2.2 2.0 0.6 -1.0 1.0 2.0


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