By  on February 5, 2009

Investors pushed retail shares down 2.3 percent Wednesday as they girded for signs of continued weakness ahead of January comparable-store sales reports today and fourth-quarter earnings reports next month.

The Standard & Poor’s Retail Index fell 6.22 points to 261.48, dropping further than the Dow Jones Industrial Average, which again fell below 8,000, sliding 1.5 percent, or 121.70 points, to 7,956.66.

Early January comp reports from Neiman Marcus Inc., which on Tuesday reported a 22.4 percent decline, and Costco Wholesale Corp., which posted a 2 percent drop Wednesday, highlighted the breadth of the consumer slowdown. Both companies said price promotions to move goods were depleting profit margins.

After the market closed, Zumiez Inc. said comp sales fell 14.8 percent last month, as Hot Topic Inc. managed a 6 percent rise. Citi Trends Inc. said comps fell 1.9 percent for the fourth quarter.

While Washington is cooking up stimulus plans, it might be hard to restart consumer spending.

“The deleveraging of debt is simply too large of an overlay for a meaningful jump start to consumer spending,” said Jennifer Black, equity analyst and president of Jennifer Black & Associates. “A good outcome is a consumer that still has the means to make necessary and discretionary purchases. This will be by no means a simple task.”

Shares of broadline retailers losing ground Wednesday included J.C. Penney Co. Inc., down 7.1 percent to $15.42; Costco Wholesale Corp., 6.8 percent to $42.98; Macy’s Inc., 5.8 percent to $8.32; Nordstrom Inc., 5.4 percent to $12.47; Wal-Mart Stores Inc., 2.9 percent to $46.42, and Target Corp., 2.4 percent to $31.34.

Specialty store decliners included Chico’s FAS Inc., off 12.8 percent to $3.42; The Talbots Inc., 11.7 percent to $2.11; Christopher & Banks Corp., 11 percent to $4.12; Caché Inc., 8.4 percent to $1.86; New York & Company Inc., 7.5 percent to $1.98; Gap Inc., 7 percent to $10.65; Pacific Sunwear of California Inc., 6.5 percent to $1.16; Citi Trends, 6.4 percent to $9.90, and AnnTaylor Stores Corp., 4.7 percent to $4.84.

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