NEW YORK — Americans proved in September they are willing to spend, as long as the price and the products are right.
Stores including Abercrombie & Fitch, Limited Brands and Macy's posted strong September sales, helped by customers lured to malls by back-to-school discounting.
The results are a positive sign that shoppers will be willing to spend during the upcoming holiday season.
"I think the doom and gloom that many of us anticipated for the quarter appears unfounded," Stifel Nicolaus analyst Richard Jaffe said. "Credit goes to the U.S. consumer and the U.S. retailer for sleuthing out what she wants and giving it to her."
The International Council of Shopping Centers' index of September retail sales rose 2.6 percent, near the low end of its forecast that ranged from 2.5 to 3 percent growth.
But the number is stronger than it appears, since retailers were up against year-ago results that were the first positive numbers in a year, making comparisons more difficult.
Mike Niemira, ICSC director of research and chief economist, said he expects holiday sales to rise 3 to 3.5 percent, slightly better than results in September, which is the third-largest sales month in terms of volume.
Still, results remain moderate compared to pre-recession performance. Analysts do not expect any major sales surge until unemployment, housing and consumer confidence sectors markedly improve.
Top performers in September were stores that offered attractive prices or unique items that consumers feel are "must have." Bright spots included teen retailers and luxury stores.
In the teen sector, especially, discounts were steep, particularly at Aeropostale, which offered promotions such as "buy-one-get-one-free promotions for jeans and camisoles. Abercrombie & Fitch offered deep markdowns as well.
Macy's revenue rose 4.8 percent, topping analysts' expectations of a 3.3 percent gain.
J.C. Penney's revenue in stores open at least one year rose 5.1 percent, ahead of the 3.1 percent gain analysts expected.
High-end retailers also reported strong results. Saks revenue in stores open at least a year rose 6.5 percent, topping the 3.8 percent gain analysts predicted. Nordstrom's revenue figure rose 7.5 percent, better than the 4.3 percent analysts expected.