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Retail Investors Bracing for Back-to-School Blues

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Remember how back-to-school time used to be such a bummer, rife with disappointment and a sense of lost opportunity? Well, the sorrow may not just be for kids, anymore.

Indeed, the crucial back-to-school season -- typically second in importance for the retail sector only to Christmas -- often provides a vital lift for the second half of the year. But the signs this year point to a season that might garner a failing grade.

We begin with consumer confidence -- or the lack thereof -- which in July hit its lowest level since April. Likewise, several shopper surveys indicate that not only will consumers spend less overall than last year, but apparel in particular, will experience substantial decreases.

Retailers prepare for failing marks this back-to-school season.

Families with students in grades kindergarten through 12 are expected to dole out $548.72 on school merchandise, down 7.7% from last year, according to the National Retail Federation.

And these numbers look even worse when it comes to apparel, as NRF predicts a 12.7% slump In the category, the biggest decrease in five years.

Even when consumers are bombarded with bargains -- once a sure-fire way to get them to spend -- they just aren't budging. "According to our research, 70% are spending between 10% and 30% less, even when presented with good deals," UBS analyst Roxanne Meyer said.

As a result, specialty retailers are poised to get hit the hardest. Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF) and Pacific Sunwear of California (PSUN), both of which have been reporting double-digit declines in monthly same-store sales, are not expected to recover in the near-term.

"Abercrombie & Fitch has done a good job recently of injecting fashion into its stores," Needham & Co. analyst Christine Chen said. "But it will take about another quarter or so to see any sort of improvement,"

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