NEW YORK — Stagnating sales trends coupled with light inventory to clear made July’s comparable-store sales results a washout. Luxury retailers, of course, remained immune.

“Most women’s retailers were weak, but July is clearance and there was not much out there,” said Joseph Teklits, a retail analyst with Wachovia Capital Markets, in a note following results.

Despite the slowdown, the balance between gainers and losers among the 50 retailers tracked by WWD remained relatively even. The number of retailers reporting positive comps slid to 26 compared with 29 in May. The number of retailers reporting negative comps came in at 23, compared with 21 in June, while one retailer was flat.

The Goldman Sachs Retail Composite Index returned a gain of 2.6 percent, narrowly beating the firm’s estimate of a 2.5 percent increase. However, the Index was well off the 4 percent gain reported during July 2003.

On Wall Street, investors ignored same-store sales results, and fretted over rising oil prices instead. The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed Thursday down 163.5 points, or 1.6 percent, to 9, 963 while the S&P Retail Index fell 9.7 points, or 2.6 percent, to 366.4.

Given tighter inventory controls and concerns over rising energy prices, retailers and analysts hadn’t expected to be able to break free from the downward sales trend that began in late June.

“We would emphasize that July is a relatively small dollar volume month and is largely driven by clearance activity, as retailers prepare for the back-to-school season,” said Lehman Brothers retail analyst Robert Drbul, in his preview of department store comps. “While we are encouraged by the healthy consumer confidence numbers reported the last two months, we believe high gas prices remain a concern for consumers.”

With back-to-school offerings already hitting shelves and fall easily visible on the horizon, retailers are expecting a rebound in August.

Richard Hastings, a retail analyst with Bernard Sands, paints a more dire picture. “Anybody can see from looking at the explosive and unsustainable growth in home equity loans that households are reaching well beyond their spending capabilities,” wrote Hastings in a note following Tuesday’s release of government data showing declining consumer spending in June.

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