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Discounters deliver on January same-store sales

NEW YORK — With winter storms shutting stores in some regions of the country, and with post-holiday clearance markdowns chipping away at the top line, January same-store sales were a mixed bag for key retailers. Off-pricers and discounters rode the crest of the wave, while full-price department stores generally languished.

Staking out a claim at the top of the heap, a position it's locked up in recent months following a dramatic turnaround, was Southeastern off-pricer Stein Mart, where same-store sales rocketed up 13.1 percent. For all of 2004, Stein Mart's comps set a pace of 9.1 percent growth.

With cash-strapped consumers still looking for bargains and stocking up on consumables, same-store sales at Target rose an above-plan 9.4 percent.

But price wasn't always on consumers' minds, and rival Wal-Mart fared substantially less well, posting a modest gain of 2.5 percent, falling slightly behind a Wall Street forecast of 2.6 percent growth. Acting as a drag at the world’s largest retailer was the Sam's Club division, cooling off after recent strong growth, and recording a small 0.8 percent decline in same-store sales during January. Comps in the core Wal-Mart Stores improved 3.2 percent.

Full-price department stores were broadly soft with the exception of The Bon Ton Stores, where same-store sales accelerated 8.2 percent, easily outpacing all of its full-price peers, like May Department Stores, where January comps skidded 7.2 percent. Federated comps, hurt by severe winter weather, slipped .4 percent. Sunbelt-based Dillard's drove same-store sales up 3 percent.

Still picking up steam in a modest rally was Sears, where comps improved 0.8 percent, after trending down throughout most of 2004.

On the other hand, the rally at Kohl's was short-lived, and January comps declined 1.6 percent. But reflecting strength in the prior two months, same-store sales for the entire fourth quarter edged up 1.3 percent.

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