Once again,

Talbots

(TLB)

goes to the head of the class.

Blowout
Talbots, 2000's retail success

The retailer of classic womens' and kids' apparel said Thursday that same-store sales -- sales at outlets open at least a year -- rose 19%, blowing away

Merrill Lynch's

estimate of a 6% to 8% increase. And Talbots said third-quarter earnings will likely be between $1.06 and $1.08 a share, beating Wall Street's consensus estimate of $1.02. It was the second upward revision to earnings guidance in as many months, and Talbots shares rose 5% in early trading to a 52-week high.

Talbots has been a bright spot in the otherwise dismal retail scene. Retail stocks have fallen all year amid a slowdown in consumer spending, higher oil prices, and a lack of items that are compelling consumers to spend. Forecasts for the holiday season don't call for a rebound, and instead predict very modest growth except for some pockets of strength -- at stores like Talbots.

Shining Through

Brightening?
Clouds clearing at Pacific Sunwear

There were some other October surprises, too.

Pacific Sunwear

(PSUN)

said same-store sales rose a higher-than-expected 4.3% and also said earnings would benefit. Third-quarter EPS is now expected to be 38 or 39 cents a share, not the 35 cents anticipated by analysts. Its shares rose 7.5%.

Gymboree

(GYMB)

continued its comeback. Same-store sales rose 26%, beating Merrill's 15%-20% estimate. The company said it still expects to lose between 17 and 19 cents a share in the third quarter because of bad August sales, but that it could return to profitability in the fourth quarter. Its shares rose more than 16% in early trading.

And general merchandiser

Kohl's

(KSS) - Get Report

continued to steam ahead as its East Coast expansion takes hold. Same-store sales rose 9.5%, higher than Merrill's estimate of a 4% to 6% gain. Still, Kohl's shares fell almost 2% in early trading.

Only the Lonely

There were also a few unexpected sales losers.

AnnTaylor

(ANN)

said same-store sales fell 3.4%, worse than expected, though it also said third-quarter earnings per share will likely be 78 cents, a penny higher than the

First Call/Thomson Financial

analyst consensus. That helped lift its shares 11%.

The Bottom?
Gap rallies despite shortfall

Target

(TGT) - Get Report

said same-store sales rose 3.5% during the month, less than the 4% to 5% increase expected by Merrill. Its sales slipped 1% in early trading.

J.C. Penney's

(JCP) - Get Report

shares also dipped 1% after the company said same-store sales fell 2.6% and that its third-quarter loss will likely be between 10 cents and 15 cents a share. Analysts had anticipated a loss of 5 cents a share, according to First Call/Thomson Financial.

Meantime,

Gap

(GPS) - Get Report

, which last night

reported an expected 2% decline in October same-store sales and said third-quarter earnings won't meet expectations, saw its shares rise more than 9% on Thursday.