Overall, retailers report positive sales growth in December

December holiday retail sales were largely positive, with some notable exceptions, according to a roundup of retailers and analysts.

Market-research firm ShopperTrak said total retail sales grew 4.4 percent in December, compared with the same month in 2004. A flood of shoppers in the week leading up to Christmas salvaged what it called a “relatively flat holiday season.”

Visa USA said charges on its credit and debit cards rose 17.5 percent this holiday season over the same period in 2004.

The International Council of Shopping Center, which tracks chain store sales, said it expects a moderate increase of 3 percent to 3.5 percent for the month.

Meanwhile, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, saw its sales rise only 2.2 percent on sales of $40.8 billion in December, and its same-store sales rise just 1.9 percent. It’s chief rival, Target Corp. said its sales increased 11.6 percent to $8.42 billion in December, with same-store sales rising 4.7 percent.

Wal-Mart has become such a large part of the industry, that if its sales were removed, overall same-store sales reportedly rose a 4.3 percent for the month, according to a Retail Metrics index of 65 publicly traded retailers. Put Wal-Mart back in the mix and overall retail comparable-store sales rose 2.2 percent.

Among department store retailers, Nordstrom Inc. reported December same-store sales growth of 7.7 percent over December 2004, and J.C. Penney Co.’s sales rose 2.2 percent. December same-store sales at Federated Department Stores Inc. increased 3.4 percent.

Same-store sales rose 2.4 percent last month at luxury retailer Saks Inc. and same-stores sales increased 8.6 percent at Neiman Marcus Group Inc.

Sears Holdings Corp. reported an 11.9 percent decline at Sears stores and a sluggish 1 percent increase at Kmart.

Many retailers that attract younger consumers had a very good December. Among them, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. said December same-store sales skyrocketed 29 percent over December 2004. Aeropostale Inc.’s sales jumped 11.4 percent, and American Eagle Outfitters Inc. rose 9.8 percent. Wet Seal Inc. reported sales growth of 38.5 percent last month, compared to a drop of 11.8 percent in December 2004.

The Gap Inc. posted a 9 percent drop in same-store sales in December, compared to a 1% decline last year. All three of the Gap’s retail brands suffered, with Old Navy and Gap stores each down 10% and Banana Republic declining by 5 percent.

A rival mall-based chain New York & Co., less than one-sixth the size of Gap Inc. with 527 locations, saw its same-store sales rise 10.9 percent in December.

In the wholesale club sector, Costco Wholesale, the nation’s largest wholesale chain with 346 U.S.-based stores and 125 international locations, saw its same-store sales in the U.S jump 6 percent and internationally 8 percent for the five weeks ended Jan. 1. Overall sales increased 10 percent to $6.37 billion during the period.

Costco said a strong Canadian dollar helped lift international same-store sales. Top sellers included food, computers, audio and video equipment, televisions, sporting goods, jewelry, and clothing.

Wal-Mart Stores’ Sam’s Club saw December same-store sales rise 3.6 rise on sales of $4.6 billion.