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Jan. Retail Sales Sluggish in Post-Christmas Slump

February 04, 1988|Times Wire Services

Sales at the nation's largest general retailers stumbled again in January, but neither store owners nor Wall Street analysts gave much weight to the numbers released today.

"It was a poor month," said Monroe H. Greenstein, a retail industry analyst with the investment firm Bear Stearns & Co. Inc. "But offsetting that is (that) it's not an important month."

January, the last month of the retail fiscal year, is generally a slow time for stores because consumers are paying off the debts they ran up for Christmas.

However, analysts predicted that sales will remain at a sluggish pace in the early part of this year, with a pickup expected in the second half.

Most chains reported January sales gains that fell short of those they had been reporting on average last year.

The stores that did better last month generally had high levels of Christmas merchandise left over after a poor December, said Fred Wintzer, an analyst with Alex. Brown & Sons Inc. in Baltimore. These stores achieved their January sales through heavy markdowns.

Sears, Roebuck & Co., the nation's largest retailer, said its sales rose 5.3% in January, and 3.5% for the full year.

Kmart Sales Up 6%

K mart Corp. reported its sales rose 6% in January and 7.6% for the entire year. Its same-store sales--those which have been open at least a year and therefore provide a basis for comparison--were up 2.7% last month and 4.1% for the full year.

Federated Department Stores Inc., currently the target of a takeover bid by Campeau Corp. of Toronto, reported its sales rose 1.1% in January and 5.8% for the year.

Meanwhile, the Labor Department reported today that productivity declined 0.2% in the fourth quarter of 1987, down sharply from a revised 4.2% increase in the third quarter.

Productivity in the non-farm business category posted a 0.8% advance in 1987, half the 1.6% jump in 1986, the Labor Department said. The showing was the worst since 1982.

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