US retailers hope big Saturday will clinch season

* U.S. stores in last hurrah before Christmas

* Cold and clear weather to spur shopper appetites

* Retail stocks need strong weekend to spur gains

By Brad Dorfman

CHICAGO, Dec 18 (BestGrowthStock) – Nora Fresse is just the type of
shopper U.S. retailers hope will help them seal the best
holiday shopping season in three years this weekend.

“I haven’t done any, actually,” Fresse said this week at a
Kohl’s Corp (KSS.N: ) department store in New Jersey, when asked
about her holiday shopping. She planned to start her holiday
shopping after getting paid on Friday.

Fresse could be among the throngs of shoppers who will take
to the stores on what retailers have dubbed “Super Saturday,”
the last big shopping day before Christmas that is typically
one of the busiest of the holiday season.

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For full holiday coverage, see: [ID:nUSHOLIDAY]

For a graphic on holiday sales, see:

http://r.reuters.com/wen33q)

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This year, investors are also looking to Super Saturday to
lift retail stocks, which have trailed the broader market since
Black Friday, the traditional day-after-Thanksgiving kickoff to
the holiday season.

The Standard & Poor’s Retailing Index (.RLX: ) is up 2.6
percent since Black Friday, trailing the 4.7 percent increase
of the Standard & Poor’s 500 (.SPX: ) even as industry forecasts
for holiday sales have been on the rise.

The National Retail Federation now expects sales to rise
3.3 percent in November and December, up from its prior view of
2.3 percent. [ID:nN14271743]

Analysts said that a strong holiday season had been priced
in by investors even before Thanksgiving, so it will take a
strong finish to the season to push those stocks higher.

“We need packed malls,” Wall Street Strategies analyst
Brian Sozzi said when asked what would move retail stocks.

Richard Hastings, a consumer strategist at Global Hunter
Strategies, said retail stocks in general can rise another 5
percent in the next month or so if Christmas turns out to be a
bigger bonanza than expected. But they can also slip 3.5
percent if December disappoints.

COLD AND CLEAR

Consumer spending makes up about 70 percent of the U.S.
economy and this holiday season has been closely watched for
signs that a recovery is gaining traction despite persistently
high unemployment. Analysts expect retailers to post the best
sales gains since 2007.

Retailers are counting that a focus on convenience will
pull in shoppers on Saturday. [ID:nN17104768]

It looks like the weather will mostly cooperate this year.
Last year a blizzard slammed the Northeast, cutting into sales
on “Super Saturday.” This year will be different, said
Planalytics, which provides weather information to businesses.

“Cold temperatures and dry conditions are the perfect
combination for holiday shopping,” Joe DeRugeriis, senior
marketing manager for Planalytics, said in a statement.

Another positive sign for retailers — and potential
disappointment for consumers — is that many appear to be
avoiding the margin-sapping discounts they had to use to clear
shelves during the last two holiday seasons.

“I’m not seeing panic markdowns at this point,” Sozzi said
as he checked out stores at a mall in Long Island, New York.

As one example, Sozzi said Gap Inc (GPS.N: ) was offering
only a 30 percent discount on merchandise throughout its
namesake apparel stores.

“That’s pretty good for them,” Sozzi said. “It’s not 50
percent off.”

He also said Guess Inc (GES.N: ) and Abercrombie & Fitch Co
(ANF.N: ), two other clothing stores, had avoided heavy
discounting.

“Broadly speaking, inventories are not out of whack with
demand,” said Christine Chen, analyst at Needham & Co.

Analysts also said that higher-priced retailers, especially
Coach Inc (COH.N: ) were doing well this season.

But the season has not been great for everyone. Earlier
this week, Best Buy Co Inc (BBY.N: ) posted a big miss in
quarterly profits as shoppers ignored its promotion of pricey
3D television. [ID:nN13207737]

Teen clothing retailer Aeropostale Inc (ARO.N: ) said
merchandise margins fell in its latest quarter and cut its
fourth-quarter profit (Read more your timing to make a profit.) forecast earlier this month.

But Sozzi said the company will need a strong end to the
holiday season to meet even that lowered forecast.
(Additional reporting by Phil Wahba and Dhanya Skariachan in
New York, editing by Matthew Lewis)

US retailers hope big Saturday will clinch season