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J.C. Penney, American Eagle Beat Sales Views

Early reports on the back-to-school season look solid.
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Several retailers posting August sales data late Wednesday turned in stronger-than-expected results for the back-to-school selling period.

Department-store operator

J.C. Penney

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reported a 4% decline in August same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least a year. That was better than the company's guidance for a mid- to high-single-digit sales decline, and it beat analysts' forecast for a 5.3% drop.

The decline reflected a calendar shift that moved sales for the first week of August -- an important back-to-school sales week -- into the July reporting period. Penney touted the strength of its back-to-school merchandise, noting that same-store sales for junior's, young men's, boy's and girl's apparel and for children's shoes all have increased by at least the midsingle digits since mid-July.

Another big back-to-school player,

American Eagle Outfitters

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, posted a 9% rise in same-store sales, or comps. The jump topped Wall Street's target for a 6% rise, according to Thomson Financial.

"August sales reflected the company's strong position as a destination for back-to-school shopping, as well as the company's commitment to delivering relevant collections that strike the right balance between fashion basics and on-trend items," the teen-apparel chain said.

American Eagle reiterated its forecast for third-quarter earnings of 47 cents to 48 cents a share, up from 44 cents last year. Analysts, on average, project earnings of 48 cents a share.


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, a seller of action-sports apparel, posted a 17.4% jump in same-store sales. Analysts expected a 9.5% climb.

Even perennial laggard

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beat estimates with a 1.1% drop in August comps. Analysts predicted a 2.5% decline.

Most major chains are scheduled to report their August sales Thursday morning. Retailer stocks fell Wednesday after


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disappointing data for the month, exacerbating fears that housing and credit market woes could be hurting consumers. As a whole, though, back-to-school sales are

expected to hold up.

For its part, Penney said it "recognizes the challenging macroeconomic environment and its potential impact on consumers." The company, however, backed its sales forecasts for coming months, projecting a low-single-digit comps rise for September and a mid- to high-single digits rise in October.