Department stores see stronger December sales

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NEW YORK (AP) — Department stores reported higher sales in stores open at least a year this December than last, and many raised their fourth-quarter forecasts.

But the chains’ shares were mixed as investors worried about the rising dollar and the government’s upcoming monthly employment report.

Overall, stores reporting sales at locations open at least a year saw a 2.9 percent increase, more than the 2 percent uptick analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters predicted.

The figure is an important measure of retailers’ fiscal health because it excludes the performance of stores that opened or closed during the year.

The increase at department stores was weaker — 0.7 percent — but also beat the forecast of analysts, who expected a 0.3 percent decline.

At Macy’s, the key figure rose 1 percent for December, helped by strong online sales; analysts predicted an 0.8 percent rise for Macy’s. The company raised its fourth-quarter profit forecast to $1.14 to $1.18 per share, above analyst expectations, and its shares rose 34 cents to $17.44 during midday trading.

Kohl’s said its sales at stores open at least a year rose 4.7 percent, above expectations, and it forecast fourth-quarter profit of $1.28 to $1.30 per share, while analysts predict $1.28 per share.

Still, Kohl’s shares fell $1.70, or 3.1 percent, to $53 during midday trading. They have traded between $32.50 and $60.89 over the past year.

Saks Inc. said its sales in stores open at least a year rose 9.9 percent in December, helped by moving a designer clearance event; analysts predicted a 2.8 percent rise. Its shares fell 17 cents to $7.27.

At Nordstrom Inc., the key figure rose 7.4 percent, while analysts forecast a 2.5 percent increase. The company raised its forecast for 2009 profit to $1.83 to $1.88 per share; analysts expect $1.83 per share.

Nordstrom shares rose $1.13, or 3 percent, to $38.56; they have traded between $11.19 and $38.74 over the past year.

J.C. Penney Co., meanwhile, reported sales in its stores that have been open at least a year fell 3.8 percent in December, slightly less than analysts predicted. But it lowered its forecast for fourth-quarter profit to 77 cents to 82 cents per share; analysts expect 83 cents per share.

J.C. Penney shares fell $1.29, or 4.7 percent, to $26.34 Thursday. The stock has traded between $13.71 and $37.21 over the past year.