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NEW YORK CITY-In a sign of a continuing retail recovery, October 2009 U.S. comparable-store sales rose by 2.1% from the same month of 2008, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers Chain Store Sales Index. This, the strongest gain since April 2008 (when sales rose 3.3%), was the second consecutive monthly increase after 13 monthly declines.

Another positive, ICSC says, was that all major segments outperformed their year-to-date results, even the luxury sector, which posted a 1.8% comp-store increase, its first gain since May 2008. Neiman Marcus reported a 6% comp gain.

“A confluence of positive factors helped October’s performance, including favorable weather early in the month that drove apparel demand, an improving economy and stock market and easy year-over-year comparison’s with the weakest part of the retail industry contraction during 2008,” wrote Michael P. Niemira, ICSC’s chief economist and director of research.

Apparel stores reported a 1% increase, though individual results are mixed: Aeropostale reported a 3% gain, but Abercrombie & Fitch a 15% drop. Department stores declined 1.1%. Discount store sales rose 2.5%, with Target’s sales declining 0.1%. Drug stores rose 3.4%, and wholesale clubs posted a 4.3% gain (4% rise excluding fuel). Costco reported a 2% increase in U.S. stores, and a 17% gain in international units, largely due to currency fluctuations.

“October again showed positive signs from shoppers, although the improvement was less even among retailers compared with the back-to-school months. Households remain focused on shopping for needs and this kind of cautious shopping behavior will restrain the sales improvement we can expect in the coming months,” said Frank Badillo, senior economist at Columbus, Ohio-based consultancy Retail Forward, in an analysis.

But problems remain, analysts note. Shoppers remain wary of spending more for the holidays than last year, according to Retail Forward’s ShopperScape survey, with only 7% of respondents planning to increase their spending on gifts. And only 9% of respondents plan to increase overall near-term spending, compared with 8% a year ago.

“Retailers generally remain very cautious in their expectations for the season, even as the season is clouded by (and likely to be inflated by) the year-ago sales weakness,” Niemira wrote. ICSC Research predicts November sales will increase 5% to 8% over November 2008.

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