By  on January 5, 2012

Holiday sales came late and often at the expense of profit margins for U.S. retailers in December.

Stores reporting December same-store sales results Thursday generally reported increases and the majority of them exceeded the levels expected by analysts. Notable exceptions were Target Corp., which disappointed the investment community with a 1.6 percent comparable-store increase for the month, about half of what analysts expected, and Kohl's Corp., which checked in with a 0.1 percent decline versus the 2.2 percent increase expected. Both firms lowered their fourth-quarter earnings guidance.

J.C. Penney Co. Inc. defied expectations of a 0.1 percent decline with its 0.3 percent increase for the month despite traffic and sales that were "softer than expected." Margin pressure prompted it to lower its fourth-quarter earnings guidance, sending its shares down in morning trading Thursday.

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