By  on August 3, 2011

Hot weather and deals on wear-now summer apparel spurred July sales,though not enough to boost the back-to-school outlook.

That wasthe consensus from a flurry of analyst reports issued Tuesday in advanceof July comparable-store sales results to be released Thursday by manyretailers.

The International Council of Shopping Centers saidJuly sales gained 4.5 to 5.5 percent, factoring in gasoline sold at thepumps of warehouse clubs. Excluding fuel, sales rose 3.5 to 4.5 percent.However, retail sales slipped 0.3 percent for the week ending July 30,according to the ICSC-Goldman Sachs Weekly Chain Store Sales Index.“July sales were relatively healthy, with discounters doing better andapparel specialty a bit uneven for the month,” said Michael Niemira,ICSC vice president of research and chief economist.

“We believethe month continued to be strong as retailers worked to clear throughsummer goods in order to showcase the beginnings of back-to-schoolmerchandise,” said Jennifer Black of Jennifer Black & Associates.She said the heat and promotions drove traffic and margins most likelygot squeezed. “We continue to see better performance in thehigher-priced channel. Jobs remain at the essence of a full-blown andsustained recovery.”

Among the stronger July performers, Blackcited Nordstrom Inc. with 6 to 8 percent comp gains; Limited Brands Inc.up 3 to 5 percent; Zumiez ahead 8 to 10 percent, and Ann Inc. at leastmeeting expectations. Gap will be negative 1 percent to plus 1 percent.

RBCCapital Markets retail analyst Howard Tubin wrote that along with thegreat outdoors, “the mall also proved to be a destination of interest inJuly” offering plenty of deep discounts on spring-summer apparel, alongwith new back-to-school and early fall merchandise. “Customer trafficin the malls appeared solid and we’re expecting comps for most of ourreporting companies to be positive,” said Tubin. Off-mall retailers TheTJX Cos. Inc. and Ross Stores Inc., he said, will likely report on-planresults, and teen retailers are “finally” displaying some productdifferentiation. Abercrombie & Finch Co.’s “ultraprep” styles andAmerican Eagle’s boho-chic and Western/Americana styles, for example,should help back-to-school business.

“I don’t think parents willcut back on back-to-school spending,” said Marshal Cohen, chief industryanalyst, The NPD Group Inc. “I do think they will look for value andfor ways to save…look for back-to-school to post growth for retailersthis year but it will be minimal.” Similarly, Standard & Poor’sexpects “continued unevenness in retail sales as we look forward,” basedon recent consumer sentiment surveys.

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