WASHINGTON — U.S. comparable-chain-store sales fell 1.0% in the week ended Jan. 26, but posted a strong 4.5% gain in December as measured on a year-over-year basis by ICSC Research's tally of 20 major retail chain stores excluding the drug-store sector.

This was in-line with ICSC's 4 to 4.5% expectation for the industry. However, sales were quite uneven by week and a calendar shift from last year pushed some of the strength in the run-rate late into the month. All-industry sales (based on 22 retail chains)-inclusive of the drug segment-posted a 2.7% gain in December comparable-store sales.

The inclusion of sales for drug store chain Walgreens has been anomalous and for that reason the total less drug stores is more representative of the underlying industry sales trends. For the November-December holiday period, chain-store sales (excluding drug stores) rose by 3.1%-in line with ICSC's September forecast.

The season was — as expected — slower than the past two years, but relatively healthy overall in the aggregate. Looking ahead to January sales and the end of the retail industry's fiscal year, ICSC forecasts that sales will increase by about 3% (excluding drug stores). ICSC also forecasts that the retail industry's 2013 fiscal-year sales pace will increase around that same mark -- which is much more sustainable than the past three years of recovery spending. The fiscal-year-to-date pace was 4.4% for the same metric.

Market News International is a real-time global news service for fixed-income and foreign exchange market professionals. See www.marketnews.com.

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