Investors took a dim view of holiday retail sales after a weak Black Friday weekend, with Amazon.com Inc one of the few stocks to rise on hopes it was gaining a greater share of consumer spending.
Amazon reached an all-time high on expectations of a strong start to Cyber Monday, when online retailers offer steep holiday discounts. The online retailer said its Kindle electronic book reader had a record sales month in November.
Overall, the Standard & Poor's Retail index fell 1.6 percent as early data from the U.S. Thanksgiving weekend showed that consumers on average spent 8 percent less than a year ago.
Total sales rose 0.5 percent to $41.2 billion, however, as consumer traffic increased over the four-day period from Thursday to Sunday, according to the National Retail Federation.
For investors who were looking for material topline growth and a return of the consumer, that's not in the cards for 2010. I think that's what the individual retail stocks here are reflecting, said Eric Beder, analyst at Brean Murray Carret & Co.
For a related graphic on change in holiday-quarter revenue for U.S. retailers, click:
Many of the biggest U.S. retail names traded lower, with discounter Wal-Mart Stores Inc down 0.5 percent, department store operator Macy's falling 5.4 percent and Gap down 3 percent.
Despite analyst predictions that higher-end chains like Saks Inc and Nordstrom Inc would perform better this holiday season, shares of both companies sank, with Saks down 8 percent and Nordstrom off 3.1 percent. Women's apparel retailers also suffered, with shares in Talbots down almost 10 percent and Chico's FAS lower by 2.9 percent.
The scant growth was especially disappointing since analysts predicted that sales would likely improve upon a dismal performance in 2008, at the height of recession and the credit crisis.
Consumer spending makes up roughly 70 percent of the U.S. economy. Economists and analysts are watching the holiday shopping season closely this year for signs consumers are willing to spend again.
Online sales did well, analysts said, with retailers promoting web sales even before Thanksgiving and well ahead of the recent Cyber Monday online push.
Cyber Monday has been kind of defused throughout the retail calendar, Beder said, adding that brick and mortar retailers are doing a better job for tying online offerings to their entire holiday package.
Analytics firm comScore said Sunday that U.S. online spending on Black Friday was the strongest it has ever been, up 11 percent to $595 million [ID:nN29396405]. That still represents a small fraction of total retail sales.
Amazon rose 2.2 percent to $134.59 after trading as high as $135.25. EBay Inc gained 3.3 percent.
Sales results in the weeks before Christmas on December 25 could also prove disappointing as more consumers said this weekend that they have completed the majority of their shopping, according to Patricia Edwards, chief investment adviser at Storehouse Partners.
Retailers have cut back on inventories in the last year to protect their profits against sluggish sales and avoid steep discounts.
If we keep sales at about where they were last year, margins should be significantly better, said Beder.
Indeed due to the 'Wealth Effect' with the stock market up, shock effect gone ... we are seeing improvement at the upper end against unusually easy comparisons. Times are tough for most, however. Unemployment is a big issue. The consumer is clearly still very worried, said David Berman of hedge fund Durban Capital in New York, which specializes in consumer and retail-related stocks.
Investors will now look for a clearer picture of the month when retailers release November sales later this week, though some of the biggest holiday shopping destinations, including Wal-Mart, Best Buy and Amazon, do not report monthly sales.