SAN FRANCISCO - Retailers are set to report another month of slowing sales after July offered little to draw in customers by the droves.

Bargain-hunting shoppers delaying their purchases for the back-to-school season, as well as a timing shift in a tax-free sales week in certain states, may contribute to softer numbers for July, which is typically the first month for the introduction of fall merchandise.

Analysts polled by Thomson Financial project that chain stores' same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least a year, collectively climbed 2.9% in July. That's below last year's 3.7% increase in the same period.

Excluding Wal-Mart ( WMT), analysts peg the number to go up by 3.9%, compared with 4.7% on a comparable basis last year.

Ken Perkins, president of research firm Retail Metrics, says that the back-to-school season is starting to follow the same patterns as the end-of-the-year holidays, when shoppers resist the temptation to buy the latest merchandise and instead wait for prices to come down.

That's bad news for retailers for July -- but could mean a release of pent-up demand in August. As well, a shift in a tax-free sales week to August in states like Florida and Texas could also bode well for this month's results.

Most major retailers plan to report their July results on Thursday. Apparel chains are expected to be the worst-performing group, with a projected same-store sales decline of 0.5%. That compares with an increase of 1.8% last July, according to Thomson.

Excluding Gap ( GPS), which tends to be a drag on the sector, same-store sales are expected to rise only slightly, by 0.9%. Gap, which two weeks ago named a former Canadian drug store chain CEO to its top position, is expected to show a 4.9% drop in comps.

Abercrombie & Fitch ( ANF) may pull down the teen-apparel group. It is expected to report a drop in same-store sales of 0.7% vs. an increase of 3% last July. The teen sector is expected to rise by 0.4%.

"While Abercrombie was the first to deliver on-trend babydoll tops, we believe a lack of appropriate school clothing kept consumers from stocking up on newer items," Todd Slater, analyst for Lazard Capital Markets, wrote in a research report.

Perkins noted that analysts have been cutting their estimates for the teen sector, as well as for department stores.

"When estimates are coming down ahead of the report date a majority of retailers tend to miss expectations," he wrote in his research, although he added that analysts had also lowered estimates for June but retailers managed to exceed them.

For department store chains, analysts predict a 3.5% increase in July same-store sales, slightly below last year's 3.6%. J.C. Penney ( JCP) is expected to lead the pack with a 9.8% increase in same-store sales. Kohl's ( KSS) is expected to post 3.2% growth.

The red-hot luxury chain Saks ( SKS) is expected to show a 10.7% rise in same-store sales, but Macy's ( M) could be looking at a 1.6% fall.

Analyst Richard Jaffe of Stifel Nicolaus is predicting a 3% to 5% increase for Nordstrom ( JWN), which he said will likely benefit from its anniversary sale.

"We believe that the success of the anniversary sale gives Nordstrom merchants excellent visibility into fall fashion trends, and a merchandising advantage," Jaffe wrote in his research.

Discount chains may be the one sector that shows the most promise for growth, albeit modestly. Analysts are looking for a same-stores jump of 2.6%, which falls short of discounters' increase of 3.2% last July. But excluding Wal-Mart, same-store sales are expected to beat last year's number, climbing 5.3% vs. 5%.

Wal-Mart has forecast 1% to 2% growth, in line with the 1.6% increase anticipated by analysts but at the bottom of estimates for the group.

Rival Target ( TGT) is expected to post a same-store sales increase of 5.9%, while Wall Street projects that Costco ( COST) will show a 6% rise.

Drug stores, which have already reported their figures for July, recorded an average 5.3% rise in same-store sales. Walgreen ( WAG) has already reported a 7.2% climb for July, while CVS ( CVS) posted a 5.2% jump. Rite Aid's ( RAD) same-store sales inched up 1.6%, missing its previous estimate of 3%.

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