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Retail Stocks Rise in Weak Session

Major indices down on financial sector concerns.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average closed below the 7,500 mark for the first time since 2002, but retail stocks managed to hold onto most of the gains made earlier in the day and post their first winning session since Feb. 11.

Coming off morning gains, the S&P Retail Index finished Thursday’s session at 251.98, up 1.97 points or 0.8 percent. It had climbed as high as 256.91 during the session.

The closing value is 21.4 percent above the index’s 52-week low of 207.49 reached Nov. 21, but still 41 percent below the 52-week high of 427.13 hit on Sept. 9, just before the full weight of the credit crisis began to eviscerate stocks.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average dropped almost 90 points, or 1.2 percent, to 7,465.95, its first sub-7,500 landing since October 2002, and the S&P 500 continued its retreat below the 800 mark with a 9.48 point, or 1.7 percent, stumble to 778.94. The Nasdaq Composite had the largest percentage decline of the major indices, resting at 1,442.82, down 25.15 points or 1.7 percent, at day’s end. Banks and other financial stocks sustained the worst of the damage, with many getting hit by double-digit decreases.

For the second day in a row, Charming Shoppes Inc. turned in the worst performance of all stocks tracked by WWD, falling another 12 cents, or 14.1 percent, to 73 cents. The Talbots Inc., among the strongest performers the day before, was among the dozen weakest Thursday, sliding 6.2 percent to $2.13.

On the other hand, Dress Barn Inc. shares vaulted 11.1 percent, to $10.35, despite the firm’s disclosure late Wednesday of a second-quarter loss that exceeded analysts’ expectations. Reaffirmation of second-half guidance, coupled with positive same-store sales results so far this year, contributed to the rise, as did an upgrade to “buy” from “neutral” by Suntrust Robinson Humphrey.

Shares of J.C. Penney Co. Inc., scheduled to report its fourth-quarter results today, were up 6 cents, or 0.4 percent, to $14.92.