By  on November 29, 2005

NEW YORK — Wal-Mart, J.C. Penney, Kohl's and Abercrombie & Fitch could be among the winners this holiday season, according to several analysts' reports filed since Black Friday.

Wal-Mart was the most aggressive promoter, Abercrombie & Fitch saw the most robust business at full-price and electronics was the standout category, according to a Goldman Sachs & Co. recap of the winners and losers of Black Friday weekend, which was among the most promotional and carefully staged in years.

Goldman said Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister saw the most robust business at full-price over the weekend, but added that Gap Inc. brands suffered from "anemic traffic trends despite stepped-up promos."

Deborah Weinswig, Citigroup's broadlines retailing analyst, characterized Black Friday 2005 as "less about bling and more about bang for the buck." In her report, she said, "Our extensive across-the-country Black Friday store checks indicate that compelling prices and hard-hitting marketing of key items drove customers to the stores, resulting in a solid start to the 2005 holiday shopping season."

She listed the hottest categories as consumer electronics, toys, kitchen electrics and cold-weather apparel, which was "aggressively priced and promoted." Gift cards were also big, she noted.

She explained that J. C. Penney, Kohl's and Wal-Mart should do well this holiday due to a combination of aggressive marketing and promoting and trend-right merchandise.

While retailing nationwide was marked by fierce promoting, Merrill Lynch said: "There was nothing that appeared to be last minute. Aéropostale's 50 percent off the entire store seemed to be the most effective." Merrill cited cooler-weather outerwear, cold-weather accessories, electronic accessories (such as iPod holders) and accessories as bestsellers.

Some analysts described this season as being "back loaded" with potential, since Christmas Eve falls on a Saturday, giving consumers most of the weekend before the holiday to last-minute shop. Also, there are 30 days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, versus 29 last year. According to Goldman, "With mounting gasoline pressures having reversed course, home heating bills yet to hit and hurricane shock wearing off,, customer appetite might be stronger than we had expected."According to Adrianne Shapira, retail analyst with Goldman canvassing the Northeast and Florida, "Wal-Mart was the traffic winner: They pulled out all the stops in terms of marketing and promotions to deliver a middle-of-the-range 4.3 percent comp." The impact on margins remains to be seen, she added.

In her overall review of the two regions, she observed: "Kohl's extended door-buster hours drew traffic late in the day, while others saw business taper off; mall anchors saw respectable traffic trends, with Macy's the most active and Nordstrom the most reserved, and Federated's holiday story has less to do with holiday comps and everything to do with tremendous margin expansion and cash flow generation in fiscal '06 and beyond."

Margaret Mayer, another analyst with Goldman, reported a 35 percent rise in retailers increasing promotions and markdowns, based on a check of 40 apparel retailers.

"Electronics was the hottest product category, with standouts being the Xbox 360, iPods, PlayStation Portables and low-price LCD TVs and digital cameras. Diamond jewelry, handbags and gift cards were other standout categories, while apparel was less exciting this year," she wrote.

More definitive results on Black Friday will be available from retailers that report November same-store sales on Thursday.

Merrill Lynch analyst Danielle Fox estimated November same-store sales will increase by 0.2 percent versus a 0.5 percent decrease last year.

On the hard goods, Fox said: "Laptops and desktop computers for less than $400, and in some cases less than $200, were the most popular and sold out fastest. This year, Wal-Mart led the way with deals on PCs, digital cameras and TVs."

Merrill analyst Mark A. Friedman said retail stocks historically are "sloppy" in December. "We maintain our defensive stance on the group and look for shares to struggle in December as holiday concerns take center stage."

Consumer electronics stores appeared busiest, followed by home improvement retailers, office products retailers, home furnishings stores and bookstores, according to Merrill Lynch.

Bargain hunters loved the early bird specials last Friday, according to a survey of weekend shoppers conducted by America's Research Group. "What makes 2005 different is that 73 percent of Friday's shoppers were finished by noon — the highest number in the last six years," said C. Britt Beemer, chief executive and founder of ARG. Shoppers hit few stores Friday, Beemer said, with three in four people going to, at most, four places.Four out of five shoppers who bought over the weekend saw the item advertised, the ARG survey found. ARG projects Christmas sales ahead 3 percent over last year. The research firm surveyed 719 consumers nationwide from Nov. 25-27.

Planalytics, a consulting firm that helps retailers plan based on forecasting the weather, said weather conditions favoring weather-related apparel purchases over Black Friday weekend were the strongest since 2002. Temperatures were 15 to 20 degrees below normal and conditions were mostly dry in the Northeast and Midwest. Paul Walsh, vice president of business meteorology at Planalytics, said in a statement, "The cold air provided a strong feeling of Christmas this weekend and a definite bias for apparel and other cold-weather items."

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