Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Late Sales Save U.S. Retailers' Season

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

Late Sales Save U.S. Retailers' Season

Article excerpt

NEW YORK (AP) -- Christmas came a bit late for the nation's retailers, but it helped salvage what was threatening to be a bleak holiday sales season for many chains.

Final sales figures from the season released Thursday showed that last-minute price slashing by merchants ignited a burst of buying that lifted receipts for the most important part of a retailer's year from disappointing to respectable levels.

"There is no doubt that this season was made at the end," said Jeffrey Feiner, managing director at Lehman Brothers. But there still were weak spots. Department stores, especially moderately priced chains like Sears Roebuck, continued to lose business to the discount chains. J.C. Penney warned Thursday that its fourth quarter earnings will be lower than Wall Street analysts' estimates. "Santa flew over most of the department stores this Christmas, but went down the chimneys of the specialty stores and discount stores," said Tara Schuchmann, who runs the Dallas-based hedge fund Tara Capital Partners. Many merchants expected that sharp gains on Wall Street and a strong U.S. economy would inspire shoppers to spend freely this Christmas. But success didn't come easy. The biggest obstacle was a warm spell in the first weeks of December, which dampened sales of winter merchandise, from snow shovels to cashmere sweaters. Storeowners also faced a growing number of value-conscious consumers, who blatantly said that they were waiting for prices to drop before they would buy. Business finally picked up right before Christmas, once the weather turned cold and merchants began offering deep discounts. That surge in buying continued the week after Christmas, when there were even steeper price cuts. "The last weeks saved the season, the same thing as last year," said Thomas Tashjian, senior managing director at NationsBanc Montgomery Securities. "We are seeing more and more that smart value- pricing attracts the consumer. They buy when the see good value." That's what drove holiday sales at the discount stores, which are known for their affordable prices and wide selection. …

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