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Retail Sales: Tempered Optimism

NEW YORK — The post-game analysis of the holiday selling kickoff continued Monday with signs of strength in the worlds of both bricks and clicks. <br><br>However, a number of cautionary notes were sounded as well.<br><br>Once their bellies were...

NEW YORK — The post-game analysis of the holiday selling kickoff continued Monday with signs of strength in the worlds of both bricks and clicks.

However, a number of cautionary notes were sounded as well.

Once their bellies were stuffed, J.C. Penney Co. Inc.’s department store customers apparently turned toward sating their appetite for apparel.

Sales last week “were strong with Thanksgiving weekend sales representing a record, and significantly above last year’s” mark, said the firm on its Web site. All apparel categories and fine jewelry “performed well.”

The period marked the first week of Penney’s fiscal December, in which the firm expects to post a low-single-digit comparable-store sales gain in its department stores.

Shares of the company advanced 84 cents, or 3.5 percent, to $24.57 Monday on the New York Stock Exchange.

Goldman, Sachs & Co. broadline retail analyst George Strachan, in research notes, said the jury was still out on the post-Thanksgiving sales. Accounts of tremendous sales on Friday were probably overdone, he said.

“Black Friday sales should have registered an above-trend increase if only because this year, Black Friday occurred six days closer to Christmas than last year,” he noted.

Strachan pointed out that November sales plans for broadline retailers were modest and that those reporting weekly sales had generally registered results either at or below plan.

“Strong Black Friday sales would merely have been enough in most cases to ensure an on-plan performance for the month,” he said. “We remain concerned that real wage growth, our favorite leading indicator of spending growth, continues to decelerate and we continue to recommend a cautious stance toward the group.”

In cyberspace, apparel and accessories were stars last week, enjoying robust, double-digit increases over sales produced by the sector a year ago, when Thanksgiving ended a week earlier, Internet measurement service comScore Media Metrix reported. Online sales of apparel and accessories to consumers last week tallied $140 million, marking a 20 percent surge over sales of $117 million transacted during the week ended Nov. 23, 2001.

For the two-day period comprising Thanksgiving and Black Friday, apparel and accessories produced the third-largest non-travel dollar volume, after computer hardware and consumer electronics. Volume in the fashion category surged 24 percent over those two days, as sales of computer hardware climbed 8 percent and sales of electronics added 36 percent. Declining to specify those volumes, comScore said it does not do so for periods of just a day or two.

Kmart.com, for one, said Monday that jewelry was among a handful of the Web site’s most popular items during the Thanksgiving weekend, along with Martha Stewart Everyday, toys, electronics, and Trim A Home. Jewelry business at Kmart’s site was boosted by a promotion offering up to 70 percent off all jewelry, plus free shipping.

Overall, last week, comScore found non-travel sales online ran up 25 percent over sales during Thanksgiving 2001, totaling $912 million, compared with $728 million.