Retailers say back-to-school purchases contributed to higher September sales, a positive sign for freight transportation and for retailers approaching the holiday selling season.
Analysts said September sales at stores open at least a year were generally up amid continuing concern about jobs and housing. In a survey compiled by Thomson Reuters, 77 percent of the retailers reporting same-store sales data for September met or beat expectations.
Retail sales are closely watched as a barometer of the broader economy and of freight transportation activity.
Containerized imports through U.S. ports rose last month from August, which some analysts had projected as the peak months for holiday imports.
Rail intermodal traffic, much of which is related to consumer imports, continued to rise during September. The Association of American Railroads reported intermodal traffic in the week ending Oct. 2 was up 16.5 percent from the corresponding week in 2009 and down 1.9 percent from 2008. The week's intermodal volume was down slightly from the previous week but still was the second-highest of the year.
The National Retail Federation this week projected sales in the November-December holiday season will be 2.3 percent above last year's levels and close to the 10-year average of 2.5 percent annual growth.
Analysts said increased September sales were aided by a rising stock market, which offset some of the drag from high unemployment and a weak housing market, and by retailers' discounting. They said consumers also delayed back-to-school buying as they bought on need rather than anticipation of needs.
Sales were especially strong among apparel stores catering to teenagers, and among discount and department stores. Seven major apparel stores catering to teenagers reported a combined 6.7 percent rise in September, compared with a 2.4 percent drop last year. Discount stores reported a 3 percent increase while department stores reported same-store sales up 4.7 percent.
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