Finally, some good news from the mall!

After weeks of gloom and doom about the sorry state of back-to-school sales, retail shares got a boost Friday after

Morgan Stanley Dean Witter

upgraded three retailers -- specialty chains

Abercrombie & Fitch

(ANF) - Get Report

and

Limited

(LTD)

, and discounter

TJX

(TJX) - Get Report

-- to outperform from neutral.

In the case of Abercrombie, Morgan Stanley said

same-store sales momentum will pick up in October as it faces easier comparisons with the previous year. New merchandise and lower prices are also doing the trick, analyst Robert Ohmes said in a note. (

TSC

pointed this out in a story in July, when the stock was at about $15. Morgan Stanley hasn't done recent underwriting for Abercrombie.) Abercrombie shares were up 81 cents at $24.50.

Meantime, Ohmes cited the prospect of "more consistent sales and profit improvements across all brands" at Limited. Consistency has been the Limited's bugaboo -- when

Express

has surged,

Structure

has sucked, for example. Now, its smaller brand portfolio, more centralized management structure and better merchandising strategy look to be paying off, wrote Ohmes. (His firm hasn't done recent underwriting for Limited.) Limited shares rose 94 cents to $22.38.

Finally, Ohmes said same-store sales at TJX could also "modestly accelerate" in October due to easier comparisons and better performance in women's apparel. Its shares were up 75 cents to $22. (Again, Morgan Stanley has no banking relationship with TJX.)

Separately, surf dude/dudette apparel maker and retailer

Quiksilver

(ZQK)

was having a good day, rising 12% after meeting fiscal third-quarter earnings expectations and offering a bullish outlook for 2001.

"Order growth could reaccelerate next spring from the midteens gains experienced this year based on customer optimism at recent trade shows" and the strength of lines like

Tony Hawk and

Roxy

, wrote

Merrill Lynch

analyst David Campbell in a research note. (Merrill hasn't done recent underwriting for Quiksilver.)

Other retail shares -- including those of

American Eagle

(AEOS)

and

Pacific Sunwear

(PSUN)

(a major seller of Quiksilver) rose on the positive news.

Of course, take the upgrades with a grain -- or entire shaker -- of salt. The retail environment remains tough, with a lack of compelling fashion items to drive big spending among already-weary consumers. And the holiday season -- when retail investors tend to get nervous about sales -- is just around the corner.