U.S. retail stocks were off to a weak start on Monday as questions about the strength of consumer spending and fears about the "fiscal cliff" overshadowed an apparently strong Black Friday kickoff to the holiday shopping season.
Shares of Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Macy's Inc., which analysts said did well over the weekend, were down because investors see those stocks as proxies for the overall economy, given the wide breadth of the retailers' customer bases, said Morningstar analyst Paul Swinand.
The Standard & Poor's 500 retail index was down 0.8 per cent in morning trading.
The broader S&P 500 fell 0.7 per cent as investors focused on the meeting of euro zone finance ministers on Greece and negotiations over the U.S. fiscal cliff after last week's rally.
Among retailers, standouts included Deckers Outdoor Corp., whose shares rose 5.2 per cent to $34.83 (U.S.). Wedbush Securities raised its price target on Deckers to $40 from $38, saying cooler weather over the weekend had helped to stimulate sales of the company's Ugg boots.
Abercrombie & Fitch Co.'s shares rose 1.3 per cent. The company, which operates the Hollister chain in addition to its namesake stores, "was the clear winner," with the longest lines and units per transaction during the weekend, according to Oppenheimer analyst Pamela Quintiliano.
Aéropostale Inc.Inc. shares fell 7.3 per cent after the stock was downgraded by Janney Capital Markets analyst Adrienne Tennant, who cited increased competition from Abercrombie and American Eagle Outfitters Inc.
Abercrombie joins Wal-Mart as some of the weekend's perceived winners in a four-day weekend when some stores opened on Thanksgiving night and people shopped online in greater numbers than ever before.
Analysts said Wal-Mart had done a good job pairing physical stores with its online and mobile capabilities, making for a seamless shopping experience.
The National Retail Federation trade group reported on Sunday that total sales for the four days from Thanksgiving through Sunday had risen 12.8 per cent to $59.1-billion. That is down from a 16.4-per-cent increase last year.
But analysts were quick to note that a strong initial weekend does not make an entire holiday season.
Barclays Capital analyst Alan Rifkin said he was "a little skeptical" about the reported strength of the number. Thanksgiving weekend typically accounts for 16 per cent to 19 per cent of total holiday sales, which most retailers are expecting to show a rise of only 3 per cent to 4 per cent, he said.
"There's plenty of time left," said Kevin Regan, senior managing director for retail at FTI Consulting. He said he expected a lull for the next couple weeks, with another burst of buying right before Christmas, which falls on a Tuesday this year.
In fact, four of the five busiest shopping days of the season will come in the 10 days leading up to Christmas Day, according to ShopperTrak.
Quintiliano said Ann Inc., which specializes in women's clothing, "may potentially prove to be the most disappointing as traffic never fully materialized on stable promotions" over the four-day Thanksgiving weekend. The company's shares were down 3.7 per cent on Monday.
UBS analyst Roxanne Meyer said specialty retailers with strong foot traffic included Limited Brands Inc., American Eagle and Gap Inc., with relatively weaker traffic at Aéropostale Inc., Cold Water Creek Inc. and Chico's FAS Inc.
Like Ann, Cold Water Creek and Chico's focus on mature female shoppers, whereas American Eagle and Abercrombie target younger people.