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Shoppers picky as they head back to stores

By Blake Ellis, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney.com) -- Sales at major retailers rose for a 10th straight month in June, but mixed results reported Thursday signaled that consumers are still cautious.

According to sales tracker Thomson Reuters, which looks at monthly sales for 28 leading chains such as Macy's (M, Fortune 500), Target (TGT, Fortune 500), Costco (COST, Fortune 500) and J.C. Penney (JCP, Fortune 500), June same-store sales rose 3.1%. That was slightly below the firm's initial estimate for an increase of 3.2%.

Same-store sales, a key gauge of a retailer's performance, measure sales at stores open at least a year.

While consumers may still be hesitant to open up their wallets, June's gain was stronger than May's 2.5% increase and a significant jump from the 4.9% drop in same-store sales reported in June of last year.

"The bottom line is that consumer spending is continuing to grow, but only modestly and not at the fast pace we saw at the beginning of the year," said Scott Hoyt, a retail economist at Moody's Economy.com.

"Unemployment is still high, wealth is probably falling again with the declines in the stock market, and overall confidence is very low, so there are just a number of constraints on the consumer right now," he added.

Out of the 28 stores, 44% beat analysts' expectations, while 56% missed.

Sluggish sales: Sales at discount and apparel stores were the most disappointing in June. Discount store sales rose an average of 2.9% last month, compared with an expected 3.6% jump, while sales at apparel stores increased 2.9%, much lower than the 3.5% rise that had been forecast.

Discounter BJ's Wholesale (BJ, Fortune 500) said sales rose 3.8% in June, missing estimates of a 5.3% increase, while sales at Target increased only 1.7%, lower than the 2.7% jump that had been expected.

In the apparel arena, sales at Gap Inc.'s Gap, Old Navy, Banana Republic stores dragged the overall apparel sector down in June. Same-store sales at Gap Inc. (GPS, Fortune 500) stores remained flat on average in June, while analysts had expected a 3.4% gain.

Excluding Gap Inc.-owned stores, apparel retailers gained 3.8% on average, slightly beating expectations of a 3.5% rise.

Biggest gainers: Department stores, boosted by promotions and steep discounts, posted the largest increase last month, gaining an average 5.8%.

JC Penney (JCP, Fortune 500), Nordstrom (JWN, Fortune 500) and Macys were among the best performers, all beating expectations in June.

Teen retailers also fared well last month, posting an overall gain of 3.7%, compared to the forecast 2.4% rise.

Abercrombie & Fitch (ANF), Hollister, Aeropostale and Zumiez (ZUMZ) posted some of the biggest gains, while other teen retailers like the Buckle (BKE) and Wet Seal struggled to lure in back-to-school shoppers.  To top of page

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