NEW YORK — August’s retail sales were wilted by the dog days of summer.

In the wake of disappointing results in both June and July, comparable-store sales in August were not the boon most retailers hoped for. Higher oil prices and a later Labor Day holiday caused many consumers to hold off on back-to-school shopping. Also impacting the month’s anemic results were the harder comparisons most retailers faced from the prior year.

As a result, mass merchants posted the softest results. In the specialty segment, results were equally depressed — except for American Eagle Outfitters, which watched comps soar 26.6 percent. Meanwhile, in the department store segment, same-store sales results were just as lackluster except for Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. Same-store sales are the sales of stores open for at least one year.

Analysts described August’s sales as mediocre, messy, tepid and sloppy. A Labor Day holiday that falls a week later this year was one of the most frequently cited reasons for the weak results. Retailers and analysts also cited significantly higher energy prices — which impact consumers’ discretionary spending allowances — for the softer comps as well as the positive effect of the president’s credit tax package last year.

Nevertheless, some analysts maintained that September comps in certain sectors could be decent due to this year’s strong fashion cycle. They also said consumers are tending to shop closer to the start of school.

Despite the negative bend of the overall results, winners narrowly beat losers among the 50 retailers tracked by WWD. The amount of retailers with positive comps dropped to 23 from 26 in July and 29 in June, while the amount of negative comps improved to 22 in August from 23 in July. Interestingly, five companies reported flat comps. Among specific sectors, WWD’s mass merchants group had the weakest performance in August, posting a 0.5 percent aggregate decline, compared with the specialty chains and department stores, which both posted 1 percent overall gains.

Goldman Sachs Retail Composite Index increased just 0.4 percent in August, off the firm’s estimate for a 1.4 percent gain. It was the weakest increase in at least a year, and compared with a 5 percent gain in August 2003. Similarly, the International Council of Shopping Centers said August’s results were the weakest since March 2003.

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