Last minute holiday shoppers walk along a popular clothing district in Los Angeles on . Shoppers who are feeling good about the economy and spending more than expected on items like kitchen gadgets, toys and coats could make this the best holiday season in several years. Shoppers are spending at a pace not seen since the Great Recession, says Craig Johnson, president of retail consulting group Customer Growth PartnersHoliday Shopping, Los Angeles, USA - 24 Dec 2017

Retail’s celebration of a strong holiday season may already be over as industry stocks took a turn after many hit yearly highs post-Christmas.

Holiday sales grew between 4 percent and 5.6 percent this year, changing slightly depending on the research report, but Consumer Growth Partners put total sales between Nov. 1 and Dec. 24 at $598 billion, the best performance since 2011 and a new spending record. Wall Street responded in kind, pushing up shares of more than a dozen retailers on Dec. 26.

But nothing lasts forever. By Thursday afternoon, shares of those same retailers had ticked back down, falling generally in line with prices over the last several weeks, and only a few recovered by day’s end. Retail stocks have been trending upward in the back half of the year, as the industry stabilized after 2017’s rocky start.  

Among department stores, shares of Macy’s fell Thursday afternoon but eventually crept up 0.31 percent to $25.72; J.C. Penney similarly slipped and then rose 1.54 percent to $3.29; Kohl’s declined 1.10 percent to $54.68; Nordstrom dropped 0.46 percent to $47.71; Dillard’s fell 1.11 percent to $60.84, and Sears Holdings Corp. declined 3.23 percent to $3.60.

Big-box retailer Target fell 0.49 percent to $64.82 and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. slipped mid-day before rising 0.14 percent to $99.40, its second-highest price this year.

Specialty stores, too, took a post-holiday stock hit. Gap Inc.’s shares dipped 0.14 percent to $34.44; Abercrombie & Fitch fell 0.11 percent to $18.22; Urban Outfitters slipped 0.11 percent to $35.26; American Eagle Outfitters declined 0.52 percent to $19.03; Victoria’s Secret operator L Brands dropped 0.38 percent to $61.02; Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger parent PVH Corp. fell slightly mid-day but then ticked up 0.18 percent to $136.91; Ralph Lauren declined 0.19 percent to $102.61; Signet Jewelers fell 1.25 percent to $55.92, and Tiffany & Co. dropped 0.97 percent to $104.22.

Amazon was the only company to climb steadily throughout the day, inching up 0.32 percent to $1,186.10, its third-highest for the year. The e-tailer boasted immediately after Christmas that this holiday season was its best-ever without divulging any specific sales figures. Last year the company’s holiday sales were estimated at $4.74 billion.

Even off-price retailers — which have been in Wall Street’s favor over the year as full-priced retail was squeezed by online rivals and shifts in consumer habits — saw their stock prices dip after post-holiday spikes. Ross Stores fell 0.15 percent to $80.61; Burlington Stores slipped 0.26 percent to $121.65, and TJX Cos. Inc. dropped 0.77 percent to $76.38, a low for the past week.

The change in share prices didn’t stop President Trump from touting the retail industry’s performance as a victory of his administration’s economic policy efforts, so far consisting of broad deregulation and corporate tax cuts.

The stocks’ turn could be related to the high level of returns expected, and the strain it puts on retailers. The National Retail Federation said 13 percent of all holiday purchases will be returned, or around $78 billion in purchases, based on CGP’s sales estimate.

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