U.S. Retail Shares Gain Ground, Set New High

Credit Suisse upgrades Ross, Dillard’s.

U.S. retail stocks set another new high today as Ross Stores Inc., J.C. Penney Co. Inc., Kohl’s Corp. and Amazon.com Inc. all gained ground.

The S&P 500 Retailing Industry Group rose 2 percent, or 13.49 points, to 699.88, and set an all-time high of 702.78 midday. The index was led by Netflix Inc., which jumped 42.2 percent to $146.86 on a stronger-than-expected fourth quarter.

Also propping up the index were Penney’s, up 4.2 percent to $19.12; Ross, 3.5 percent to $61.15; Kohl’s, 3.3 percent to $44.90, and Amazon, 2.1 percent to $273.62.

Ross as well as Dillard’s Inc., which rose 4.1 percent to $84.32, both saw their stock upgraded to outperform from neutral by Credit Suisse analyst Michael Exstein. The analyst said Ross was benefiting from changes at Penney’s and Kohl’s and that Dillard’s was well positioned and operating more efficiently after trimming its store base in recent years.

Exstein also said, in a research note on department stores, that 2013 “should be a year the industry begins to address the issue of a decline in store productivity as e-commerce becomes a larger part of the business. The ultimate outcome may be a rationalization of the store base.”

The retail index handily outperformed the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which inched up 0.3 percent, or 46 points, to 13,825.33.

In Europe, markets made modest gains, led by the FTSE 100 in London.

The British market was up 1.1 percent to 6,264.91, followed by the FTSE MIB in Milan, which increased 1 percent to 17,756.63. The CAC 40 in Paris was up 0.7 percent to 3,752.17, while the DAX in Frankfurt edged up 0.5 percent to 7,748.13.

The euro traded at $1.33 against the dollar while the pound traded at $1.58 and the Swiss franc traded at $1.08.

The pound has lost ground against the euro this week following a speech by British Prime Minister David Cameron regarding the country’s future in the European Union. Cameron vowed to put an “in/out” referendum to the British people by 2017 if the Conservative party wins the next general election.

Retail and luxury stocks were mostly up, with the day’s biggest gainers including British retailer Debenhams, up 3.2 percent to 104.50 pounds; Compagnie Financière Richemont, 2.3 percent to 76.95 Swiss francs; Geox, 4.5 percent to 2.69 euros, and Ferragamo, 1.4percent to 19.43 euros.

Among the few retail stocks that lost ground were Mulberry Group, which was down 1.7 percent to 12.34 pounds.