NEW YORK — This year's back-to-school season isn't as big a bust for retailers as they feared — or as last year's — but it's not great either.
Americans are spending only when the item and price are just right, according to August reports from major chains released Thursday that showed shoppers bought a little more than a year ago.
The International Council of Shopping Centers said Thursday that its index of 31 major retailers rose 3.2 percent for August. That's a tad better than the 3 percent forecast, but it barely compensates for a 2.0 percent drop a year ago.
"It's a glimmer of hope that the numbers are coming in ahead of low expectations," said Ken Perkins, president of research firm RetailMetrics. "But the back-to-school shopping season isn't anything to get excited about."
Thursday's reports helped ease fears of a double-dip recession, which have been stoked in recent weeks by a barrage of negative economic reports, including slumping home sales.
Among the big winners were Costco Wholesale, Victoria's Secret operator Limited Brands and Macy's, whose results beat Wall Street forecasts.
Target's results were helped by solid sales of food and back-to-school merchandise, but revenue overall at stores open at least a year fell slightly short of expectations. Chains that cater to teenagers had mixed results. Luxury retailers, which have been holding up much better, were mixed as some affluent shoppers are spooked by the wild swings in the stock market; Nordstrom fared well but Saks' gain was small.
Steve Koenig, director of industry analysis for the Consumer Electronics Association, said spending on overall back-to-school electronics showed "marginal improvement" over last year, which was a low point.