Lingering summer weather and an uncertain economy kept consumers out of malls and stores in September, leaving many of the nation's big retailers with disappointing sales for the month.
As the merchants reported their sales figures Thursday morning, the biggest losers were apparel sellers including Limited Brands Inc. and Mothers Work Inc. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. posted a modest sales gain that was slightly below analysts' expectations, but raised its third-quarter profit outlook because of cost-cutting measures.
'Sales are coming in soft, as expected,' said Ken Perkins, president of RetailMetrics LLC, a research company in Swampscott, Mass. 'It was a perfect storm, a combination of abnormally warm weather, high food and energy prices, a continued sluggish housing marketing and tight credit.'
The news wasn't encouraging as the holiday season fast approaches. Retailers have been struggling with a sales slowdown for most of the year as shoppers face higher food and gasoline prices as well as a weakening housing market. But last month, stores also had to deal with warm, muggy weather that wilted consumer demand for fall clothing.
Wal-Mart reported a 1.5 percent increase in sales at stores open at least a year, known as same-store sales. Same-store sales are considered a key barometer of a retailer's health. That was slightly below the 1.8 percent estimate from analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial.
10/11 Update 1: After reporting September sales figures, many retailers have now lowered their forecasts.
10/12 Update 2: Deloitte sees increasing volatility and potential spending slowdown.