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Updated from 9:44 a.m. EDT

The back-to-school shopping season rebounded from a slow start and cranked up in September, retail reports indicated Thursday, as consumers enjoyed lower gas prices.

Ken Perkins, president of the research firm Retail Metrics, reported that his overall index of same-store sales for over 70 major retail chains climbed 3.8% in September, beating expectations amid blowout performances from department stores and teen-apparel destinations. Excluding an isolated disappointment from the world's largest retailer,


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, the index jumped 6%.

Same-store sales, or comps, are a closely watched gauge of a retailer's competitive performance, measuring sales results at stores that have been open for at least a year.

"Any way you slice it, September was a great month for the retailers," says Perkins. "We haven't seen this kind of strength for a number of months. Lower gas prices are a big part of why consumer confidence has rebounded recently, and people are not worried yet about what's going on in the housing market right now."

To be sure, lower has prices did little to help Wal-Mart. The discount giant confirmed that its same-store sales were up just 1.3% for the month. Over the weekend, the company said its same-store sales increased 1.8%, but it lowered that estimate on Wednesday, citing a miscalculation.

While Wal-Mart reiterated its forecast for third-quarter earnings of 59 cents to 63 cents a share, the tepid same-store sales raised concerns on Wall Street about the company's business.

Wal-Mart's chief competitor,


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reported a strong 6.7% jump in same-store sales for September. Analysts had expected a 5% increase, according to consensus estimates reported by Thomson First Call. The company said results were well above its expectations, and it expects to beat analysts' earnings projection for the month.

The big losers for September included

Pier 1 Imports

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, which posted a 10.1% drop in comps, and

Sharper Image

( SHRP), which logged a 21% plunge. Both companies have long been struggling to retain customers.

Meanwhile, retailers serving young people celebrated a back-to-school season that started off slow but ended strong, even as economists fret about macroeconomic headwinds facing consumers.

Children's Place

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( GYMB) both posted 20% increases in September comps, which blew away estimates on Wall Street.

In department-store retailing,

Federated Department Stores

( FD) said its same-store sales rose 6.2% in September, beating analysts' expectations. The company's total sales declined 6.5% to $2.3 billion because it has closed down 78 duplicative store locations over the past year due to its merger with its former rival,

May Department Stores


"Customers responded positively to the nationwide re-launch of the Macy's brand in September," said Federated in a press release. "Increased national marketing support led to better-than-expected results in our ongoing Macy's stores. In addition, sales trends improved in the former May Company locations."


J.C. Penney

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continued to show strength, blowing away Wall Street's estimates with a same-store sales gain of 8.7% in September. The company said it expects October comps in the low single digits, expressing caution due to recent softness in big ticket home categories.


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had already whet Wall Street's appetites earlier this week by reporting a 16.3% jump in its September comps. Analysts had expected a gain of only 8%.



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said same-store sales for September surged 13.4% from a year ago, beating expectations for a 6.3% rise.

Same-store sales at


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continued their long slide, down 3% for the month. The result was in line with expectations on Wall Street.



reported a same-store sales increase of 5.8% for the month, surpassing Wall Street's expectations for a 4.2% gain. Comps at its namesake stores were up 9.6%, while Ann Taylor LOFT posted a 1.4% increase.

Among the teen apparel chains,

Abercrombie & Fitch

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continued to shine, with a 10% jump in same-store sales that beat analysts' estimates. The trendy retailer raised its earnings forecast for the second half of the year.



posted an 8.5% increase in September comps, which also bested analyst estimates.

Pacific Sunwear


continued to struggle. Its comps dropped 9.4% for the month. Analysts had predicted a 4.3% decline.

Late Wednesday,

Hot Topic

( HOTT) said its same-store sales dropped 7.3% in September. The mall-based retail chain, which has been a consistent sales laggard as it struggles to find the right mix for fickle teen tastes, said it expects to report third-quarter earnings at the low end of its previously announced forecast of 16 cents to 18 cents a share.


American Eagle Outfitters

( AEOS) said its same-store sales rocketed up 19% in September, and it raised its earnings outlook for the quarter. The teen apparel chain now expects to earn between 61 cents and 63 cents a share, up from its previous guidance of 56 cents to 58 cents.