(Updated with additional analysis of impact of Cyber Monday sales on November same-store sales comps.)
NEW YORK (
) -- Many had hoped that the Black Friday weekend might give the retail sector the boost to overcome a rather lackluster November.
But if preliminary estimates of last month's same-store sales are to be believed, there might not have been enough black ink on Black Friday to paint a pretty picture for November.
So how, exactly, did we get here?
It's no secret, by now, that November got off to a slow start, as shoppers waited for Black Friday promotions. When retailers reported third-quarter earnings, some also revealed that they same-store sales mid-month were down by the mid-single digits to low-double digits, Needham analyst Christine Chen wrote in a note.
And then last week, according to the National Retail Federation,
Black Friday consumer traffic hit record levels -- but those consumers spent 8% less on average compared with last year. As a result, the International Council of Shopping Centers now predicts same-store sales for the month will increase between 3% and 4%, less than the 5% to 8% growth previously forecast.
The upshot: Although November's numbers should be nowhere near as glum as the 7.8% plunge seen last year, they could fall short of expectations.
Things will be especially tough for apparel retailers, as Black Friday spending was predominantly focused on consumer electronics. Alluring deals on big-ticket items like flat screen TVs and video game consoles kept some shoppers away from clothing stores and running to
And while both
American Eagle Outfitters
Abercrombie & Fitch
were upgraded this week due to strong traffic over Black Friday weekend, Brean Murray Carret analyst Eric Beder said he wouldn't be surprised if both companies disappoint.
On average, analysts predict American Eagle will post a 1.8% decline and Abercrombie will tumble 9.5%.
"We believe trends only slightly improved at American Eagle, as its decision to not be aggressive in discounting denim around the Black Friday holiday will prove to be a mistake," Beder wrote. "We believe American Eagle is already more aggressive than planned on holiday discounting."
Indeed, Abercrombie & Fitch's Hollister concept was the standout over the weekend, as it drew traffic with its Buy One Get One Free event. But Beder says traffic gains were more than offset by average unit price declines.
"Given that the company is up against a 28% drop last year, a mid-to-high single-digit decline is a disgrace, in our view," Beder wrote.
Any Black Friday surge also fell off significantly Saturday and Sunday, particularly in the specialty apparel sector, Susquehanna Financial Group analyst Thomas Filandro wrote in a note.
This suggests the sector will now be faced with several weeks of sporadic and potentially lackluster traffic, as consumers await the final week's deals leading up to Christmas," he wrote.
The uptick in online sales could also potentially take a bite out of comparable sales.
Cyber Monday sales jumped 14% compared with last year, according to Coremetrics, a Web analystics firm. And since online sales are not included in monthly same-store sales tallies for most companies, we may not be getting a complete picture of November sales.
Still, for retailers like
, which do include online sales in monthly figures, it could provide a boost to results.
Regardless, November same-store sales won't be a very accurate indication of what to expect for the holiday, as Wal-Mart, Best Buy and
-- the behemoths of the season -- don't report monthly sales numbers.
In fact, the main concern isn't with November -- or even the fourth quarter, for that matter -- but what happens once the holidays are over and consumers no longer have a reason to shop. Gift-card holiday sales are expected to fall 5%, according to Archstone Consulting, and this decline will most likely hold back sales and profits in January when shoppers typically redeem the cards, Stifel Nicolaus analyst Richard Jaffe wrote in a note.
And then there's one last hurdle to clear: In 2010, retailers will also reach the anniversary of the benefits of cost savings and better inventory management, limiting their potential upside and challenging retailers to grow earnings primarily through sales improvement.
-- Reported by Jeanine Poggi in New York
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