NEW YORK CITY-Many retailers posted disappointing year-over-year same-store sales in August, due to a weak back-to-school season, the effects of Hurricane Charley and other woes, companies say. Chain stores posted a “weak” 1.2% gain overall, according to a preliminary tally of 69 retailers by the International Council of Shopping Centers, which says retailers were averaging a 5% gain year-to-date until last month.

Wal-Mart posted a 0.5% increase, down from its 4.1% average jump over the last 30 weeks. Target’s 1.8% hike was also lower than its year-to-date average, at 5%.

Federated Department Stores’ 2.4% drop was due to “weakness in back-to-school areas of juniors and young men’s, as well as in furniture,” says Terry J. Lundgren, the company’s chairman, CEO and president. Sears saw a 6.1% slide, and Alan J. Lacy, its chairman and CEO, blamed the lack of a federal tax refund, which Americans received last year in August.

The May Department Stores blamed its 5.9% plunge partly on the shift of a pre-Labor Day sales promotion from the last week of August in 2003 to the first week of September this year. Gap Inc.’s sales last month dropped 1%, compared with a 4% year-over-year increase in August 2003.

The industry did have a few bright spots. Nordstrom continued its strong year with a 7.2% jump, though down from its year-to-date average of 9.2%. Best Buy reported a solid increase of 4.3%, and Costco Wholesale’s same-store sales climbed 4%.

Meanwhile, the National Retail Federation reports today that its Retail Sector Performance Index for August declined by 9.9 to a “below normal reading” of 48.1. “The impact of Hurricane Charley and the uneven pace of back-to-school sales has retailers reporting mixed results,” says Tracy Mullin, NRF’s president and CEO, in a statement. “Retailers’ saving grace may be inventory levels, which have been kept under control and are helping stores focus on moving fall merchandise.” The NRF also says consumer traffic was down last month, though the average transaction per customer slightly increased.

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