(Update: Cato and Zumiez guidance information added, along with total ICSC same-store sales figures.)

NEW YORK (

TheStreet

) -- September same-store sales appeared, at least at first glance, to justify the hype, as 20 of the 29 companies tracked by TheStreet reported results in-line or exceeding expectations.

Overall, sales were actually positive, up 0.1% during the month, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. This is the strongest reading since July 2008.

The good news prompted many retailers to up guidance for the second half of the year. And for most, these weren't just a penny or two increase, making the prospect of a Merry Christmas seem far more likely.

Teen retailer

Aeropostale

(ARO)

raised its third-year forecast after posting a 19% surge in September sales. Analysts expected a12.4% upticks.

Management now predicts third-quarter earnings in the range of 84 cents to 85 cents a share, better than the 78 cents to 80 cents it previously forecast.

Rival

American Eagle Outfitters

(AEO) - Get Report

also said it foresees a more profitable third-quarter. The company said its same-store sales were flat for the month, surpassing the 4.1% decline analysts expected.

American Eagle now expects third-quarter earnings in the range of 24 cents to 26 cents a share, up from prior outlook of 22 cents to 25 cents a share. Analysts expect the company to rake in a profit of 20 cents a share.

Last week, skate and surf-inspired retailer

Zumiez

(ZUMZ) - Get Report

raised its guidance between 12 cents and 14 cents a share, from an outlook of 5 cents to 7 cents a share.

Off-pricers

TJX

(TJX) - Get Report

and

Ross Stores

(ROST) - Get Report

have been the biggest winners amid the recession.

TJX raised both its third- and fourth-quarter guidance. For the third quarter it expects earnings to fall between 71 cents and 74 cents a share. And for the fourth quarter (which includes holiday) it sees earnings in the range of 60 cents to 66 cents a share.

Ross Stores said it saw a boost from home products and dresses in September, helping it achieve comparable sales of 7.2%, in-line with Wall Street's estimates.

Looking ahead, the retailer projects third-quarter earnings in the range of 75 cents to 77 cents a share, a significant boost from its prior forecast of 57 cents to 63 cents a share.

For the holiday season, management expects a same-store sales gain between 5% and 6%, and earnings in the range of 88 cents to 94 cents a share.

Women's retailer

Cato

(CTR) - Get Report

, one of the few that still reports monthly sales figures, said its same-store sales shot up 6%, prompting the company to raise its third-quarter guidance into positive territory.

Cato now expects earnings in the range of 3 cents to 5 cents a share, up from a prior forecast of a loss of 3 cents to 7 cents a share.

While the department store sector was the weakest of the bunch,

J.C. Penney

(JCP) - Get Report

and

Kohl's

(KSS) - Get Report

were standouts.

At J.C. Penney, women's apparel was the biggest catalyst to beating expectations. Shoes and children's apparel also saw strength, but fine jewelry continued its weakness, leading to a 1.4% decline in same-store sales.

But this was still better than the 3.5% drop analysts predicted, and led the department store to upgrade its third-quarter earnings to 3 cents to 10 cents a share. Previously the company had expected earnings between a loss of 5 cents and a gain of 5 cents a share.

Rival Kohl's has been making headway with its exclusive private-label merchandise at wallet-friendly prices. The company saw the most growth in the sector, with same-store sales surging 9.6% compared with the measly 0.1% increase analysts predicted.

As a result, the value-priced player foresees third-quarter earnings between 52 cents and 54 cents a share. Kohl's previously called for earnings in the range of 40 cents and 44 cents a share.

Though children's retailer

Gymboree

(GYMB)

does not report monthly sales results, it too upped its guidance, citing stronger margins and fewer markdowns.

For the third quarter, the company expects earnings between $1.05 and $1.10 a share, better than the 95 cents to $1.03 a share it originally forecast.

While Target just beat expectations and same-store sales slipped 1.7%, the discounter said it expects third-quarter profit to exceed the current consensus of 43 cents a share. But it warns that it is still cautious about the fourth quarter.

-- Reported by Jeanine Poggi in New York

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