) -- September is do or die for retailers.

Same-store sales for the month, due out on Thursday, will be a bellwether for the all-important holiday season.

Still, up against easy comparisons from last year -- and receiving a boost from the later Labor Day weekend -- the numbers are a double-edged sword for retailers: On one hand, the comparisons are so eminently beatable, retailers will likely get little credit from investors for surpassing them; on the other hand, should they miss expectations, even with all factors in their favor, the consequences could be severe.

Meanwhile, consumer confidence and unemployment data are hardly in line with a rebound in consumer spending -- and the market is well aware of it.

All things told, the International Council of Shopping Centers expects a 2% decline for the month -- and while this is better than the drops seen earlier in the year, it would still mark the 25th consecutive month of same-store sales decrease.

And as for individual concerns, the winners of the month will likely be those that offer merchandise at moderate prices, such as





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Ross Stores

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, Stifel Nicolaus analyst Richard Jaffe wrote in a note.

Aeropostale is expected to report a 12.2% spike in its same-store sales, but J.P. Morgan analyst Brain Tunick warns that the company's stock is close to fully valued at the current levels.

TJX is forecast to increase 4.1%, led up by its Marmaxx division, while Ross Stores is expected to grow 7.2%, due to its fresher merchandise and share gains from the liquidation of Mervyn's.


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should also continue to show improvement, as it improves its merchandise and sees the beginning stages of a turnaround at its Old Navy chain. Analysts predict comparable sales will be off slightly, 0.4%.


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improved trends in August should carry over into September, UBS Roxanne Meyer wrote in a research note. Analysts expect the discounter to post a 2% slip in same-store sales.

Eyes will be keenly focused on the performance of apparel and home at the retailer, since these are the two sectors that have been struggling the most.


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, a name generally not discussed much in the space, will likely serve as a good barometer for deciphering the pull of the first two weeks of the month in comparison to the end of the month.

The skate-and-surf inspired clothing company reported a 29% surge in same-store sales for the first two weeks of the month. Weeks three and four likely returned to a double-digit comp decline trend, J.P. Morgan analyst Brian Tunick wrote in a note.

Once again,

Abercrombie & Fitch

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is expected to be the biggest loser. Analysts expect comparable sales at the teen retailer to plunge 20.8%, despite big discounts like the 20% Friends with Benefits promotion at Hollister featured during the month.

J.C. Penney

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has already said that it expects comparable sales to decline between 3% and 6% for the month. Analysts are calling for a 3.5% dip.

-- Reported by Jeanine Poggi in New York

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