The S&P Retail Index finished Wednesday’s session at 413.96, up 0.93 points, or 0.2 percent, during a day when its highs and lows were separated by less than 3 points. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 both rose less than 0.1 percent, to 10,573.68 and 1,137.14, respectively, while the Nasdaq Composite lost ground, dropping 7.62 points, or 0.3 percent, to 2,301.09.

This story first appeared in the January 7, 2010 issue of WWD. Subscribe Today.

Overseas markets performed similarly with London’s FTSE 100 and Paris’ CAC 40 both rising 0.1 percent, to 5,530 and 4,018, respectively, and the Hang Seng Index in Hong Kong, up 0.6 percent to 22,416.67, modestly outperforming the Nikkei 225 Index in Tokyo, ahead 0.5 percent to 10,731.

Among the stocks exhibiting strong upward momentum on Wednesday was Rue21 Inc., which raised guidance for the fourth quarter to a range of 28 cents to 30 cents a diluted share, up from the previous range of 17 cents to 20 cents. The firm said sales and margins exceeded expectations, with revenue growth now expected at 26 to 28 percent versus previous forecasts of a jump in the low 20s. Shares rose 6.5 percent to $29.55 prior to the after-market announcement.

With same-store sales, to be reported today, expected to be flat or up slightly, retail stocks had little to propel them in either direction and generally followed the roller-coaster trajectory of the overall market. Investors were impressed by the Institute of Supply Management’s report that its index for service industries hit 50.1 last month from 48.7 in November, with 50 being the line of demarcation between growth and contraction. However, the ADP National Employment Report said 84,000 jobs were shed by the private sector last month, higher than expected and certain to add to the anxiety when the government reports job numbers on Friday.

Notes from the Fed’s meeting indicated divisions about whether the government’s program to buy mortgages needs to be extended beyond its March 31 expiration.

Also on Wednesday, comScore reported its final numbers for the 2009 holiday season. During the period between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, online sales in the U.S. grew 3.9 percent to $29.08 billion versus $27.98 billion during the comparable period of 2008, below the 4.9 percent growth rate through Christmas Eve previously reported.

Although comScore declined to provide dollar figures, it reported that jewelry and watches emerged as the leading category for sales growth this holiday with a 20 percent rise. However, the digital research firm noted the double-digit growth rate followed a 29 percent drop during the holiday 2008 season. Consumer electronics was second with 15 percent growth, with the top five rounded out by event tickets, computer hardware and books/magazines, with increases of 8 percent, 7 percent and 6 percent, respectively.

ComScore data showed a slight drop-off of sales in the final, ninth week of the holiday season, ended Sunday, when online sales fell 6 percent to $1.77 billion. However, this figure was offset by increases in the eighth week, leaving the two-week total unchanged at $3.87 billion. As in previous years, online spending downtrended dramatically after week seven, which this year ended on Dec. 20, when the window for Christmas Day deliveries closes. This year’s total for that week was $4.8 billion, according to comScore.

“The 2009 online holiday shopping season was a positive one as its growth rate slightly surpassed our forecast and returned to solidly positive rates after nearly a full year of marginally negative growth,” said Gian Fulgoni, chairman of comScore.

Online sales in the U.S. exceeded $900 million for the first time on Dec. 15, when they hit $913 million. That performance was viewed as a pleasant surprise after a disappointing $854 million take on the preceding day, known as Green Monday, the final Monday at least 10 days prior to Christmas and previously thought to be the heaviest day of the season for online spending. Cyber Monday, which fell on Nov. 30, was the second best day for online shopping as sales hit $887 million. All told, online sales exceeded $800 million on nine different days while a 10th, Dec. 2, just missed the milestone with $797 million in sales.

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