Updated from 8:51 a.m. EST

Christmas came late for retailers, as strong sales made for a merry January.

Mall-based chains and big-box retailers reported better-than-expected results, with even perennial laggards like

Pier 1

(PIR) - Get Report

joining the typically hot teen specialty chains in reporting solid numbers.

The good performance suggests that warm weather in the Northeast brought out shoppers, while the activation of gift cards from the holiday season carried over into January.

Retail Metrics LLC said its overall index tracking same-store sales at 64 national retail chains showed a gain of 4.8% in January from a year earlier. That figure came in ahead of expectations for 4.1% growth.

The results mark the largest monthly increase in same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least a year, since last June. It also was the biggest upside surprise for the firm's index since January 2004.

Roughly 75% of the companies reporting sales results beat Wall Street's expectations. After retailers' uneven performance in November and December, two key sales months, January's results buoyed spirits about the strength of consumer spending in the face of soaring oil and gas prices.

"There wasn't a lot of color offered in press releases this morning on this great performance, but given the number of retailers that indicated strong gift card sales over the holidays, it looks like there were some pretty strong gift card redemptions taking place in January," says Ken Perkins, Retail Metrics' president. "Warm weather appears to have helped drive traffic as well and it helped retailers sell spring merchandise at full price."

Despite the upside, Perkins warned that sales may slow in the coming months.

"Retailers are facing more difficult comparisons in February and March, and the weather is likely to get significantly colder than it was in January," he says. "That could hurt consumers with higher home heating bills."

As usual,

Abercrombie & Fitch

(ANF) - Get Report

had a huge month, with same-store sales rising 33% from a year ago, about twice the expected rate.

Also strong was

Gap

(GPS) - Get Report

, which posted positive 1% comps and put full-year earnings at $1.22 to $1.25 a share, compared to analysts' $1.16 estimate. The earnings projection includes a one-time tax benefit.

The biggest retailer,

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Report

, confirmed a 4.7% rise in same-store sales for January and said comps in February should rise 2% to 4% from last year. The January performance, which hit the high end of its previous guidance, was previewed last weekend.

Wal-Mart's chief rival,

Target

(TGT) - Get Report

, said same-store sales rose 5.2% for the month, hitting the high end of its range and beating analysts' expectations.

Elsewhere in discount retailing,

Costco

(COST) - Get Report

said its comps rose 9%, beating estimates, and

B.J.'s Wholesale Club

(BJ) - Get Report

recorded same-store sales up 2%, a bit short of estimates.

Home decor retailer Pier 1 said January comps rose 8.2% thanks to discounting, which the company said will eat into fourth-quarter margins. It predicted negative same-store sales in February.

Chico's

(CHS) - Get Report

reported a better-than-expected 14.6% rise in same-store results, while the women's clothier's total fourth-quarter sales were $376 million, about $4 million ahead of estimates.

Ann Taylor

(ANN)

said January comps rose 10.9% from last year, better than forecast, and put fourth-quarter earnings at $1.17 a share, in line with its previous guidance.

J.C. Penney

(JCP) - Get Report

reported a 2.5% rise in comps, slightly above forecasts. The department store operator said total fourth-quarter sales were $6.2 billion, which matches estimates.

Nordstrom

(JWN) - Get Report

said January same-store sales rose 6% from a year ago, while total fourth-quarter sales were $2.3 billion, slightly better than expected.

Federated Department Stores

( FD), the parent of Macy's and Bloomingdale's, reported a 1% rise in comps, in line with estimates. The department store giant raised its forecast for fourth-quarter earnings from continuing operations to a range of $2.60 to $2.65 a share, from $2.25 to $2.35 a share previously.

Department store chain

Kohl's

(KSS) - Get Report

reported a 2% uptick in January comps, falling just short of estimates, but the retailer reiterated its fourth-quarter profit forecast.

Wednesday Night

Late Wednesday,

Aeropostale

(ARO)

said same-store sales rose 12.3% for the month, beating Wall Street's expectations for a 6% gain, according to Thomson First Call. The teen clothing company's total sales rose 45% to $61.6 million.

For the fourth quarter, Aeropostale's total sales increased 32% to $432.9 million on a same-store sales increase of 10.3%. Based on its results, the retailer boosted its earnings projection for the holiday quarter to 73 or 74 cents a share from its previously expected range of 71 to 73 cents a share.

Elsewhere, goth outfitter

Hot Topic

( HOTT) said its same-store sales declined 0.7% in January, softer than the 5.9% fall analysts were expecting. Hot Topic, which posted disappointing results for its December selling period, stood by its previously announced earnings projection for a fourth-quarter profit of 21 cents to 24 cents a share.

American Eagle Outfitters

( AEOS) said its January comps rose 11.3%, above Wall Street's expectations for a gain of 7.4%. Total sales rose 18% to $128.8 million.

For the fourth quarter, the teen retail chain's sales rose 23% to $2.3 billion with a 15.5% same-store sales gain. The company reiterated its earnings guidance for the holiday quarter, calling for 70 to 72 cents a share. Analysts predict earnings of 71 cents a share.

Zumiez

(ZUMZ) - Get Report

, a clothing and accessories chain serving extreme sports enthusiasts, said its January comps rose 23.2%. Its total sales rose 46.3% to $12.9 million.

Meanwhile, women's clothing and accessories retailer

Limited Brands

(LTD)

reported that it had flat same-store sales in January. The owner of the Victoria's Secret and Express chains said net sales rose 4% to $783 million from $750.5 million.