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Retailers Report Sales Soft In October, 3rd Qtr.

Retailers reported middling sales results for October and the just-ended third quarter.

While some analysts suggest that weak autumn sales could portend pent-up demand for holiday purchases, the mixed performances kept the fourth-quarter outlook cloudy (see story, p. 14).

Merchants announcing numbers included Ultimate Electronics, whose sales soared 34 percent to $177.8 million for the third quarter ended Oct. 31 on the strength of 10 store openings during the period. But same-store revenue remained relatively flat, edging up 1 percent for the three months.

“Given the current economic conditions, we are pleased with our total sales growth,” said CEO Ed McEntire. “We are confident that our strategy … will provide opportunities for our company to continue to grow over the immediate and long term.”

Sears fared less well. The broadlines merchant said total revenue declined 7.5 percent in October to $2 billion, while comp-store sales sank 10 percent. Especially unsettling was that the losses were attributable to declines in core big-ticket categories, including major appliances, which also faltered in August, and consumer electronics.

Sears chairman/CEO Alan Lacy, who had attributed previous declines to store remodeling disruptions, said that “the weakening economy significantly impacted sales.”

Turning in solid performances last month were leading discount chains Wal-Mart and Target. Citing strength in CE, Wal-Mart’s discount store division netted $11.8 billion in revenue, a gain of 12.7 percent, while comp sales grew 4.8 percent, against a gain of 6.3 percent last year.

Total sales for Target’s discount stores grew 11.6 percent to $2.6 billion, and comps increased 2.1 percent.

Among wholesale clubs, category leader Costco reported a 6 percent gain in net revenue to $3 billion and a 2-percent comp sales hike, while Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club saw net sales rise 4.5 percent to $2.4 billion as comps slipped 1.6 percent.

BJ’s said net sales rose 11.4 percent to $437 million while comps decreased 0.1 percent. Video games enjoyed strong sales gains, the company noted, but cited CE, film and batteries among its weaker performers.

Finally, Sharper Image said channelwide sales grew 32 percent to $37.3 million in October and 39 percent to $103.2 million for the quarter, while same-store sales grew 23 percent for the month and 24 percent for the quarter.