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Retail Reports Could Hold Holiday Clues

"Friday was really a super day, particularly for consumer electronics and discount retailers," Perkins said. "Mall-based specialty chains didn't fare as well."

Lackluster results for mall-based retailers were reflected in a separate report from ShopperTrak, which uses technology to track customer traffic in major retailing locations. It said consumers spent around $8.01 billion last Friday, down 0.9% from last year, and Saturday sales were flat compared with those of last year at $5.4 billion.

That report excluded results at major, off-mall discount stores like Wal-Mart (WMT), Target (TGT) and Home Depot (HD). Also, many consumer electronics locations, like Best Buy (BBY) and Circuit City (CC), are off-mall, and they were reported to be hosting large crowds of gadget-buyers over the weekend.

For November, Wal-Mart reported after the weekend that its same-store sales are on track for a 4.3% gain. Those results would land at the midpoint of its previous guidance for an increase of 3% to 5%. Wall Street is expecting a 2.8% increase for its main competitor, Target.

Meanwhile, teen clothing chains, like Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) and American Eagle Outfitters (AEOS), are expected to show the strongest gains for the month.

Analysts are forecasting a 21.8% jump in comps at Abercrombie, while American Eagle is expected to show a 10.7% gain.

Other mall-based specialty chains are projected to be the weak link, with Gap (GPS) headed for a 5% decline and Limited Brands (LTD) expected to report a 1.7% rise.

Chico's (CHS), the red-hot clothing destination for middle-age women, already reported an 11.8% increase in November comps.

With consumer attitudes showing a big rebound from the skepticism that followed a devastating hurricane season, and economic indicators showing an economy that continues to boom, traders are still weighing lingering concerns about consumers' debt loads. Despite last weekend's strong shopping turnout, the aggressive markdowns suggest that people are making a concerted effort to rein in their spending this holiday.

"Retailers were showing the most aggressive pricing I've seen in quite some time, and I think that's a harbinger of increased promotions, markdowns and discounts as we go through the holiday season," Perkins said. "So, the impacts of this on profit margins is the big question, and we won't get much info on that until the December comps reports come out in January."

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