An upbeat forecast from Wal-Mart ( WMT) bolstered Wall Street's expectations for monthly sales due out from retailers Thursday. But given the extraordinary events that transpired in September, investors are still braced for disappointments from the chain stores. Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics LLC, said his firm expects its survey of about 100 national retail chains to show an overall same-store sales gain of 3.6%. Same-store sales cover sales at stores that have been open for at least one year and serve as a key measure of a retailer's performance. Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, has said it expects a same-store sales gain of 3.8% for the month, which would hit the high end of its previous forecast, despite the economic damage done by two hurricanes that slammed in to the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Katrina, the first of the two storms, is the costliest natural disaster in U.S. history. The retailing giant had closed 126 locations due to Hurricane Katrina and 155 because of Hurricane Rita, but by the beginning of October, only 15 stores remained closed. Meanwhile, the company saw increased sales of canned foods, water, candles, batteries, flashlights and lanterns as consumers prepared for the storms. Afterward it benefited from a pick-up in basic apparel, hardware and cleaning supplies as residents of the storm-ravaged region started their recovery.
Excluding Wal-Mart's results, Perkins said the overall sales gain for September would dip to 3.4%. That comes on a relatively easy comparison to last September's pace of 2.3%. "The numbers look pretty good, but it's going to be a difficult month to draw any solid conclusions about the retailing environment given all the intangibles that have taken place," Perkins said. "If we do see some disappointments here, I think it could be the harbinger of what might be a difficult holiday shopping season for retailers."