US retailers' sales rise in Sept, but shoppers stay cautious

NEW YORK (REUTERS) - United States shoppers continued to show caution in their spending in September, gravitating toward bargains, as political strife in Washington and slow job growth hurt their confidence with the start of the holiday season just weeks away.

L Brands Inc on Thursday reported sales at stores open at least a year rose 1 per cent in September, missing Wall Street estimates of a 2 per cent gain. The company had soft business at its Victoria's Secret chain, where it had to offer deeper promotions than it had expected.

Zumiez Inc, The Buckle Inc and American Apparel Inc all said same-store sales declined last month, continuing a tough stretch for stores that cater to younger shoppers.

A group of nine retailers were expected to report a 3.1 per cent rise in September same-store sales, compared to a 5.5 per cent gain last year, according to Thomson Reuters.

Gap Inc will report after US markets close.

Shoppers did spend where they found deals.

On Wednesday, warehouse chain Costco Wholesale Corp reported US same-store sales that beat Wall Street expectation, as consumer sought out its less expensive merchandise and gasoline.

Fred's Inc, a discount general merchandise chain, reported better-than-expected sales, and Stein Mart Inc , which sells fashions at big discounts compared to department stores, reported a 5 per cent increase.

Over the summer, many shoppers shifted spending to items like cars and homes and away from clothes, hurting retailers that have a heavy presence in malls.

J.C. Penney Co Inc, which this week reported a 4 per cent drop in comparable sales for September but is not part of the index, said traffic trends were better at its off-mall stores.

Consumer confidence decreased in September on concerns about the short-term outlook for jobs and whether the slight improvement in the economy could keep its momentum, according to the US Conference Board.

In September, consumers were also worried about the prospect of a partial US government shutdown, which began on Oct. 1.

US business leaders are concerned about the impact that the political deadlock in Washington could have, especially with the holiday season looming. If the US debt ceiling is not raised by an Oct 15 deadline, the United States could default on some debt.

"If and when there's a default, we will feel that," Macy's Inc Chief Executive Terry Lundgren told journalists at a conference in New York last week.

Last week, Rite Aid Corp reported comparable sales of general merchandise fell 0.5 per cent, while at Walgreen Co they rose 2.9 per cent. Both chains get the bulk of their revenue from drug prescriptions.