KEEPING PACE: January retail sales were expected to be a bit of a letdown, possibly even the end of a run of months stretching back to April in which stores’ same-store sales gains have exceeded 3 percent. Instead, comparable-store sales for the month averaged 4.2 percent higher, more than twice the 2 percent estimate provided by Thomson Reuters before Thursday’s flood of figures. Discounters carried the month, rising 6.1 percent, but the sectoral figure was even higher for specialty stores providing Gap Inc.’s 4 percent slide was excluded. With Gap, apparel specialty stores were up 3.3 percent; without it, the increase was 6.2 percent.

RELATED STORY: Warm Weather Weighs on Comps; Luxe Shines >>

This story first appeared in the February 3, 2012 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

BEARING THE BURDEN: Limited Brands Inc. had the second best comp gain versus expectations, its 6.3 point “surprise” to a 9 percent jump surpassed only by the 6.5 point outperformance of Zumiez Inc. and ahead of Saks Inc.’s 4.3 point elevation relative to estimates. Limited’s excellence in January was a bit one-sided, however, with Victoria’s Secret’s 17 percent gain offsetting declines of 3 and 8 percent, respectively, at the company’s Bath & Body Works and La Senza units.

WHAT TO WISH FOR: Just as retailers were reporting January results on Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow, supposedly translating into six more weeks of winter. Still, with temperatures hovering at ranges generally associated with April in much of the country, store officials seem more concerned about the arrival of winter weather than bothered by its persistence. Phil’s prognostication notwithstanding, the window of opportunity for outerwear and sweater sales is closing.

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