Retail sales improved in October

Halloween seems to have scared off the bad vibes at the mall — for now — according to data showing better-than-projected retail sales in October.

One gauge, from Retail Metrics, showed same-store sales last month rising 3.7 percent over the same period last year, beating predictions of a 3 percent boost.

Analysts, such as Ken Perkins of Retail Metrics, had been worried that October would continue this year’s trend of disappointing sales. Retailers are closely parsing any sales data, looking for clues about the coming holiday season, which accounts for as much as 40 percent of annual revenue for some companies.

On Tuesday, Abercrombie &Fitch said its same-store sales in the third quarter tanked 14 percent and forecast that its fourth-quarter numbers would be lower than anticipated. The struggling retailer told analysts that it would start offering larger sizes and more colors in a bid to recapture customers.

But the teen retailer may be alone in its misery. Rival American Eagle Outfitters said Wednesday that its second-quarter same-store sales slipped 5 percent — less than the 8.2 percent plunge Retail Metrics had predicted. The chain raised its forecast for the third quarter.

L Brands scored what Perkins called a “home run” with an 8 percent upswing in same-store sales. But the company said it expects sales in November to be negative year over year because of an unfavorable comparison to 2012, when retailers benefited from an extra week of shopping after Thanksgiving.

Still, RBC Capital Markets analyst Howard Tubin said in a note to clients that L Brands’ Victoria’s Secret and Bed Bath and Beyond companies “appear to have solid momentum as we enter the holiday season.”

Another gauge of retail sales from Thomson Reuters showed a 4 percent same-store sales increase, beating expectations of a 3 percent upswing. Stripping out drugstores, the measure jumped 3 percent, surpassing estimates of a 2 percent boost.

Out of 10 companies reporting, only teen apparel retailer Zumiez missed forecasts, rising 1.2 percent instead of the projected 1.7 percent. The apparel sector as a whole was up 3.3 percent after a dismal back-to-school season in September.

Yet another tally from the International Council of Shopping Centers showed a 4.1 percent same-store sales increase.

“Sales trends seemingly are back on track,” said Michael Niemira, chief economist for the trade group. “It would appear that the consumer has come back, just at the right time.”

For November, the group said it anticipates a 3.5 percent to 4.5 percent increase.

Among the surprises: J.C. Penney, which said its 0.9 percent sales swell in October was the first monthly same-store sales increase since December 2011. In September, the gauge slid 4 percent.

The retailer also said online sales soared 37.6 percent over the same period last year. The advancement was “achieved despite the federal government shutdown and a challenging consumer environment,” the company said Thursday.

Still, analysts such as Charles Grom of Sterne Agee were not impressed, arguing that J.C. Penney trends “are not improving as quickly as they should perhaps be.”

“With time not on the company’s side, the slope of the comp improvement needs to be much steeper than it currently is running,” Grom wrote to clients.

In advance of the holiday rush coming later this month, Capital One Bank released a survey Thursday showing that nearly three-quarters of Americans are likely to make a spending budget for the season. But of those, almost half say they aren’t sure they’ll stick to their limits.

If so, a third of respondents said that gifts for friends will be first to go. Just more than a quarter said they’d ditch presents planned for a boss.

Seven in 10 Americans told the bank that they plan to hand out do-it-yourself gifts, such as baked goods, meals and decorations.

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