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Mixed Bag for Retail

LouAnn Lofton
November 6, 2003

October's a transition month for retailers, bridging back-to-school and the holidays. It's a time to clear fall goods and slowly start rolling out winter offerings, while making sure inventory levels are positioned for holiday demand. Unless you're lucky enough to be Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT  ) or Costco (Nasdaq: COST  ) and benefit from the rush of Halloween candy and costume buying, October's usually ho-hum.

The latest rash of same-store sales reports for October reflects this, with discounters racking up big gains, and others announcing more varied outcomes. Wal-Mart and Costco both notched solid same-store sales increases -- Wal-Mart's were up 4.5% and Costco's, 11%.

For specialty retailers, an unseasonably warm October kept some shoppers from shelling out for winter coats and sweaters. The tax-rebate spending that spurred earlier months' results also trickled out, leaving retailers dry.

Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE: ANF  ) suffered a particularly painful October, with comps nosediving 14%, leading the teen retailer to lower expectations for its third-quarter earnings. Rival teenage fashioneer Wet Seal (Nasdaq: WTSLA  ) also experienced an ugly month, with comps dropping 9.7%. The story was the same for Aeropostale (NYSE: ARO