Sales at major chain stores open at least a year -- a key industry performance metric that excludes the impact of new and closed stores -- rose 2.7 percent in October compared with the same month a year earlier, on par with analysts' expectations, according to Thomson Reuters' tally of 18 retailers. Excluding drugstores, however, retail sales are up 4.7 percent, topping expectations of 4.3 percent.
One of the biggest positives this season is that consumer confidence has begun to bounce back, which could prove to be an important factor in supporting holiday sales this year. Americans' confidence in the economy surged last month to the highest level in nearly five years, as many were encouraged by an improving job market.
Many companies closed the books on October last weekend, so the full impact of Sandy was not factored into the sale tallies.
Retailers are looking ahead to the effects that the storm may have on consumers in the coming months, especially those in the hardest-hit states. Many Americans have bought generators and other storm supplies, which could cut into their budget for the holiday period. For retailers, holiday sales can make as much as 40 percent of their annual sales.
The Costco Wholesale Corp. (Nasdaq: COST), Nordstrom Inc. (NYSE: JWN) and the Rite Aid Corp. (NYSE: RAD) all said Thursday that November sales would suffer because of store closures due to Sandy.
Costco said a dozen of its warehouses were closed because of the storm. While the company couldn't quantify the hit, Costco said it believed the impact would be small.
Nordstrom said it closed stores in the Northeast and mid-Atlantic regions because of Sandy and expected an unfavorable impact on November sales results.
Rite Aid said eight of its stores had sustained substantial damage, as of Wednesday, although the number could increase as access is gained to more locations.
Economists at Wells Fargo expect holiday retail sales, which include November and December, to rise 3.8 percent year over year, compared with last year’s more impressive 5.7 percent increase. While this year’s gain will likely be lower than last year’s, it is still above the historical average for holiday retail sales growth of around 3.5 percent over the past decade.
The stronger-than-average sales growth, in part, can be attributed to a more favorable shopping calendar this year. There are three more days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, compared with last year. Consumers also have an extra weekend this year given that Christmas falls on a Tuesday.
The recently released National Retail Federation 2012 Holiday Consumer Spending Survey conducted by BIGinsight, which tracks consumer behavior, indicated that the average consumer expects to spend $749.51 on holiday items, compared with $740.57 spent last year, with the largest portion of spending going toward gifts for family members.
The survey also indicated that more than one-half of consumers surveyed planned to shop online this holiday season, up from last year’s 46.7 percent.
“Given the change in consumer tastes and preferences for online shopping, consumers are likely to stretch out their holiday spending over a longer period of time to take advantage of sales and layaway programs,” noted Eugenio J. Aleman, a senior economist at Wells Fargo.
Here's a look at how the retailers fared in October:
Macy's, the second-biggest department-store chain, raised its same-store sales-growth forecast for the second half of the year as its preliminary third-quarter sales topped expectations.
"Business was strong in October, and we delivered a solid performance in the third quarter," Chairman and CEO Terry J. Lundgren said in a statement.
The company said it now expects same-store sales will improve about 4 percent in the second half, compared with its prior estimate for 3.7 percent growth. During October, the retailer's same-store sales were up 3.6 percent, handily beating analysts' estimates for a rise of 3.1 percent.
The Cincinnati-based company said more than 200 Macy's and Bloomingdale's stores were closed from periods ranging from a few hours to a number of days owing to Superstorm Sandy, but the retailer expects to make up some or most of the lost sales during the rest of the fourth quarter.
Shares of Macy's Inc. (NYSE: M) rose 5.52 percent, or $2.10, to $40.17 in Thursday’s afternoon trading.
Target, the second-largest discount chain, said its October same-store sales grew by a weaker-than-expected 2.4 percent. Target CEO Gregg Steinhafel acknowledged the October sales were “near the low end of our expected range,” but said the company’s third-quarter same-store sales growth of 2.9 percent was in line with its guidance.
“As we enter the fourth quarter, we feel very good about our holiday season merchandising and marketing plans and our ability to deliver outstanding value for our guests while generating strong financial performance for our shareholders,” Steinhafel said in a statement.
Shares of the Minneapolis-based Target Corp. (NYSE: TGT) fell 0.83 percent, or 53 cents, to $63.22 apiece.
Costco, the warehouse retailer, posted a better-than-expected 7 percent rise in October sales at stores open at least a year. Analysts were looking for a rise of 6.6 percent. Excluding the effects of fuel and currency exchange, Costco posted a 5 percent rise, compared with the 5.6 percent increase that was expected.
The Issaquah, Wash.-based company said that it plans to open up to 10 additional warehouses by the end of the year.
Shares of Costco Wholesale Corp. (Nasdaq: COST) fell by 0.55 percent, or 54 cents, to trade at $97.89.
TJX, owner of discount stores T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, said sales in October rose 7 percent, against expectations for a 4.3 percent rise.
The Framingham, Mass.-based company added it is “extremely pleased” with the results and is raising its third-quarter and full-year guidance.
TJX now expects third-quarter profit of about 61 cents a share. Looking ahead, TJX expects 2013 profit in a range from $2.44 to $2.47 a share, including a previously disclosed cost of 2 cents a share related to pension expenses.
Shares of the TJX Cos. Inc. (NYSE: TJX) rose 1.56 percent, or 65 cents, to $42.28.
Gap, the largest U.S. apparel chain, posted a 4 percent increase in comparable-store sales, when 5.1 percent was expected, a miss after showing some sustained momentum.
Same-store sales rose 6 percent at North American namesake stores, 5 percent at Banana Republic, and 5 percent at Old Navy, while international fell 2 percent.
The San Francisco-based casual-apparel retailer expects earnings of 61 cents to 63 cents a share, above expectations of 54 cents from analysts polled by Thomson Reuters.
Shares of the Gap Inc. (NYSE: GPS) fell 0.59 percent, or 21 cents, to $35.51 apiece.
Same-store sales at Limited Brands, the parent company of Victoria's Secret and Bath & Body Works, rose 3 percent, when 5 percent was expected.
The Columbus, Ohio-based company nonetheless raised its fiscal third-quarter earnings forecast as its net sales growth narrowly topped expectations.
Limited Brands now expects per-share earnings of 23 cents to 25 cents, compared with its prior view for 15 cents to 20 cents. Limited also expects quarterly net sales of $2.05 billion. Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters are looking for revenue of $2.04 billion.
Shares of Limited Brands Inc. (NYSE: LTD) dropped 0.73 percent, or 35 cents, to $47.54.
Nordstrom, the upscale department-store chain, blew past estimates, posting a 9.8 percent rise in same-store sales, ahead of the expected increase of 6 percent. The company said its sales were strongest at stores in the Midwest and Northwest.
Shares of Nordstrom Inc. (NYSE: JWN) rose 1.04 percent, or 59 cents, to $57.34.
U.S. department-store chain Kohl's sales rose a better-than-expected 3.3 percent in October, when 1.1 percent was expected. Total sales climbed 4.6 percent to $1.39 billion on strong growth in the Midwest and its children's business.
The Menomonee Falls, Wis.-based company also said it is following the trend of retailers that will no longer report same-store sales on a monthly basis. Kohl's will halt the practice early next year and report results on a quarterly basis.
Shares of Kohl's Corp. (NYSE: KSS) gained 3.21 percent, or $1.71, to trade at $54.99 apiece.
Ross, owner of the Ross Dress for Less discount chain, again raised its earnings view for the fiscal third quarter, citing higher merchandise margins and after its same-store sales rose 4 percent.
"With October performing at the high end of our projections, we expect to report another quarter of solid, above-plan growth in both sales and earnings," CEO Michael Balmuth said. "We also remain well positioned as a value retailer in the current environment, and our business continues to benefit from our ongoing ability to deliver a wide assortment of fresh and exciting name brand fashions to today's bargain-oriented consumers."
The discount retailer now expects earnings per share for the quarter ended Oct. 27 to be between 71 cents and 72 cents, up from its prior view of 70 cents to 71 cents. The company posted 63 cents in EPS a year earlier.
Shares of Ross Stores Inc. (Nasdaq: ROST) fell 6.13 percent, or $3.73, to $57.22.
The Kearney, Neb.-based teen retailer Buckle posted a 3.8 percent rise in its October sales. Net sales for the month were up 5.7 percent to $84.2 million, from $79.7 million in the year-ago period.
Shares of the Buckle Inc. (NYSE: BKE) jumped 5.07 percent, or $2.29, to $47.46.
Retail drugstore chain operator Rite Aid said same-store sales declined 1.1 percent in October. The Camp Hill, Penn.-based company said that, as of Wednesday, Rite Aid had 188 stores either closed or operating with no power, down from a peak of 790 closed during the height of the storm on Monday evening.
Eight stores have sustained substantial damage, and the number could increase as Rite Aid gains access to more locations.
Shares of the Rite Aid Corp. (NYSE: RAD) fell 3.88 percent, or 4 cents, to $1.12.