Updated from 9:27 a.m. EDT

Despite solid results at a couple of marquee names, the July retail results released Thursday were generally weak as higher energy prices, weak customer traffic and fewer discounts offset early enthusiasm for this year's back-to-school season.

Overall, the results were "terrible," said Kurt Barnard, president of Retail Forecasting. "I can hardly find any positive numbers," he said. "Most are negative."

As a result, the majority of retail stocks were dropping in morning trading, with Standard & Poor's retail index lately down 4 points, or 1.1%, at 372, approaching its worst level since December 2003.

Barnard stressed that prices at the gas pump are pinching customer spending. "America is gas poor," he said.

Vincent Malanga, president of LaSalle Economics, said he wasn't surprised about the month's results because he was already expecting a poor showing. "I wasn't disappointed because I was expecting them to be soft because the weather has been crummy. ... I think this is part and parcel of the impact of higher energy prices on the general consumer budget," he said.

Malanga noted, however, that gas prices have been coming down from previously lofty levels. That, combined with the beginning of the end of the summer driving season, should start to lessen the gas crunch impact on consumers' wallets.

"Some improvement is in store for us," said Malanga. "It might break well for the back-to-school selling season."

Barnard added that while he finds most consumers are feeling confident, they remain cautious. "What is lacking is a sense of robust well-being. People feel OK, but they don't even trust their own optimism."

He thinks U.S. consumers wouldn't feel as wary if the employment picture were less hazy. "Retailing and consumer spending ... are basically the function of what we always say is a four-letter word. And that spells J-O-B-S," said Barnard.

Among individual retailers,

Wal-Mart

(WMT) - Get Report

said same-store sales were up 3.2%, slightly ahead of the Thomson First Call consensus for a 3.1% increase. By division, Wal-Mart stores had a 2.4% increase in same-store sales, while Sam's Club posted a 7.7% rise.

Analysts polled by First Call were expecting a 2.7% rise in Wal-Mart same-store sales and a 5.8% increase at Sam's Club.

Total company sales were $20.6 billion, up 10.9% from the prior year's $18.6 billion. Wal-Mart stores sales were $13.8 billion, up 9.3%, Sam's Club sales rose 8.8% to $2.7 billion and international sales jumped 17.8% to $4.1 billion.

Wal-Mart said its strongest categories in the month were food, household paper goods and pet supplies. "Initial demand for back-to-school included strength in bedding, basic apparel, uniforms and new fall fashion including skirts, polo shirts and screen tees," the company said in a recorded message. It also had less clearance merchandise and lower markdowns in apparel.

The company forecast August same-store sales to be up 2% to 4%, and noted its tougher comparisons with August 2003, which had a 6.9% increase overall. The Wal-Mart division faces a 6.6% comparison and Sam's Club is up against a positive 8.2% comparison.

Shares of Wal-Mart were lately down 28 cents, or 0.5%, at $52.92.

Target

(TGT) - Get Report

had a 3.8% increase in overall same-store sales, easily surpassing analysts' estimates for a 2.8% gain. Target stores alone had a 4.1% increase in same-store sales vs. the consensus for a 2.9% rise.

Total sales were $3.6 billion, up 8.8%, and total Target stores sales -- or sales from continuing operations -- increased 9.7% to $3.2 billion. Target shares were falling 32 cents, or 0.7%, at $42.81.

The discount group as a whole came in closest to analysts' estimates. That's because consumers are looking to make their money go farther, said Barnard, in light of the higher gas prices, concern over a weak job market and interest rates.

Another discounter,

Costco

(COST) - Get Report

, said July same-store sales increased 9%, ahead of estimates for a 7.9% increase, while total sales rose 12% to $3.72 billion.

Costco shares were down 15 cents, or 0.4%, at $41.

BJ's Wholesale Club

(BJ) - Get Report

said same-store club sales rose 6.4%, ahead of estimates for a 6% rise. The company said gas sales added 2.1% to overall same-store sales, while sales of food contributed 10% and sales of general merchandise were down 2% on a comparable-store sales basis.

Total July sales were up 10.2% at $532.6 million at BJ's. The stock was declining 4 cents, or 0.2%, to $22.51.

Limited Brands

(LTD)

posted flat July same-store sales -- missing the consensus for a 2.1% increase -- while total sales in the period rose slightly to $575.3 million, from $563.2 million a year ago.

By division, Bath & Body Works had a 4% drop in same-store sales vs. the consensus for a 2.3% drop. That's in stark contrast to the division's huge 55% same-store sales increase in June. At Victoria's Secret, July same-store sales were up 6%, ahead of estimates for a 4.4% increase.

The company said second-quarter same-store sales increased 9% overall with net sales up 10% at $2.21 billion. Shares of Limited were down 34 cents, or 1.7%, at $19.47.

Gap

(GPS) - Get Report

said July same-store sales decreased 5%, badly missing the consensus for a 0.8% increase. The company's Banana Republic division had a 10% decrease in same-store sales vs. estimates for a 8.1% rise, and same-store sales at Old Navy were down 2% vs. an expected 1.8% increase.

Total company sales fell 3% to $1 billion in July. Gap cited soft traffic trends and lower merchandise margins.

The company forecast second-quarter earnings of 19 cents to 21 cents a share, including certain expenses. The stock was lately off 83 cents, or 3.9%, at $20.55.

Pier 1 Imports

(PIR) - Get Report

had a 1.3% drop in July same-store sales, missing estimates for a 0.2% decline. Total sales increased 7.2% to $138.9 million.

The company said customer traffic was inconsistent through the month and because it had a big clearance sale, merchandise margins were weak.

Based on the weak traffic and the shift of the Labor Day holiday into the September reporting period, the company forecast August same-store sales to be down 4% to 8%. Second-quarter earnings are seen at 10 cents to 12 cents a share, below the consensus estimate for 13 cents a share.

Pier 1 shares were down 68 cents, or 3.9%, to $16.95.

Teen retailer

Abercrombie & Fitch

(ANF) - Get Report

was a big disappointment, posting a 9% drop in same-store sales vs. the consensus for a 0.2% decrease.

The company has been struggling to turn around its same-store sales, which have moved in and out of positive territory since early this year. Meanwhile, total sales in July rose 8% to $143.7 million.

Abercrombie forecast second-quarter earnings of 42 cents to 44 cents a share, ahead of the consensus for 40 cents a share. The company cited inventory and expense controls, as well as margin improvement.

Abercrombie shares were off $1.57, or 4.4%, at $34.25.

Chico's FAS

(CHS) - Get Report

had a 13.7% increase in same-store sales, easily beating the consensus estimate for an 8.6% gain. Total sales skyrocketed 49% to $71.1 million. Shares of the company were up $1.79, or 4.5%, at $41.56.

Luxury department store chain

Nordstrom

(JWN) - Get Report

said same-store sales in the month increased 6.1%, beating the consensus for a 5.4% rise. Total sales were up 8.9% at $746.9 million. The stock was down $1.05, or 2.5%, at $41.89.

Federated Department Stores

(FD)

had a 3.7% increase in July same-store sales, short of the consensus for a 4.2% increase. Total sales increased 3.6% to $998 million.

The company forecast flat August same-store sales. It had a 0.8% decrease in August 2003 same-store sales. Federated also expects same-store sales in both the third and fourth quarters to be up 1.5% to 3%.

Federated shares were down 10 cents, or 0.2%, at $46.70.

Same-store sales at

Dillard's

(DDS) - Get Report

dropped 4% in July, compared with estimates for a 2.4% decline. Total sales were also down 4% at $529.7 million.

Shares of Dillard's were dropping 23 cents, or 1%, to $22.69.

Another department store chain that has struggled with negative same-store sales,

Kohl's

(KSS) - Get Report

, reported a 4.2% decline in July results. That compares with estimates for a 3.9% decrease. Total July sales increased 10% to $770.7 million.

The company guided second-quarter earnings to 44 cents to 45 cents a share, ahead of the consensus estimate for 43 cents a share. Kohl's shares were down 60 cents, or 1.3%, at $44.92.

Sears

(S) - Get Report

said same-store sales fell 2.6%, a sharper decrease than the 1.9% decline predicted by analysts. Total sales fell 4% to $1.84 billion. Sears said sales fell in its apparel and auto center divisions.

Sears beaten-down shares were up 34 cents, or 1%, at $36.03.

Finally,

May Department Stores

(MAY)

said July store-for-store sales fell 5%, below the consensus for a 2.4% drop.

The company cited a timing change in the Texas sales tax holiday and the related movement of an end-of-week sales promotion at its Foley's division. This shift negatively impacted May's store-for-store sales by 3.5%.

Total July sales fell 5.3% to $817.9 million. May said apparel clearance fell short of its expectations, but said it saw increases in luggage and mattress sales.

The company also said it will include sales from its newly acquired Marshall Field's stores from Target in the period beginning Aug. 1.

Shares of May were down 3 cents at $25.61.