Target Sales Flat Amid Retail Gains

MINNEAPOLIS — Target Corp. [4] here conceded on Thursday that its same-store sales in December were “essentially flat,” but confirmed that its profit projections for the fourth quarter were still on track.

The report came amid what some said was a strong late-season comeback for retailers, after consumers appeared to temper their spending. Overall comparable-store sales were up about 4.5% among retailers reporting December results on Thursday — led by Costco Wholesale Corp. [5]’s 9% increase.

Read more: Costco December Sales Top Estimates [6]

Target said it its flat December was driven by a “low single-digit decrease” in comp-store transactions, which were offset by an increase in average transaction size. The flat results compared with a comp-store increase of 1.6% in December 2011.

“December sales were slightly below our expectations, as strong results late in the month did not completely offset softness in the first three weeks,” Gregg Steinhafel, chairman, president and chief executive officer, said in a statement. “Similar to November, profitability for December benefited from our continued focus on achieving an appropriate balance between price investments and driving sales, combined with thoughtful inventory management.”

Target said its comp-store food sales — driven by the rollout over the last few years of its P-fresh layout featuring a broader grocery assortment — led all categories, with gains in the “mid-single digits.” The HBC category was also up in low single digits, the company said.

The company also said its December comps were strongest in portions of the West, and softest in portions of the East.

Overall the holiday season for retailers was “not particularly great,” Ken Perkins, president of research firm RetailMetrics, was quoted as saying in an Associated Press report, “but it was definitely not as bad as feared.”

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