NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 28: A crowd of shoppers hunt for bargains at Macy's on November 28, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by Yana Paskova/Getty Images)
People's shopping binges -- fueled by deep discounts -- on the day after Thanksgiving didn't prevent retailers from having a terrible November, which turned out to be the worst month since at least 1969. The biggest exception was Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which reported a solid sales gain.
Here's a breakdown of November sales figures and what they mean:
WAL-MART AND THE REST:
Wal-Mart posted a better-than-expected 3.4 percent gain in same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least a year, but most retailers saw slumps. The Goldman Sachs-International Council of Shopping Centers tally of same-store sales from 37 retailers dropped 2.7 percent, the weakest performance since at least 1969 when the index began. Excluding Wal-Mart, same-store sales for November would have dropped 7.7 percent, indicating a widening gap between the world's largest retailers and everyone else.
Online merchants, which have seen sales slow as the economy deteriorates, finally got some relief. Online sales rose 15 percent for the Monday after Thanksgiving, according to research company comScore Inc. But that gain was fueled by a 22 percent increase in the number of buyers, who spent on average 5 percent less than a year ago.
Analysts expect stores will need to offer even more aggressive discounts to entice shoppers, who are cutting their holiday budgets. There are also five fewer days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, so retailer have less time to make up lost ground.
The deep discounts are hurting margins. Fourth-quarter earnings are expected to drop 16 percent from a year ago, according to Ken Perkins, president of research company RetailMetrics LLC. Excluding Wal-Mart, that drop would be 23.5 percent.