Footwear Shines in December at Some Retailers

NEW YORK — Footwear was a big winner at several key department stores in December.

Nordstrom, Saks Fifth Avenue and Kohl’s were among the majors that reported strength in shoes last month during the busy holiday season.

Sam Poser, an analyst at Sterne Agee, said Ugg had once again been a boon for many stores this season, including Nordstrom.

“The week leading into Christmas through today has been gangbusters,” said Poser, adding that the shearling boot brand has become a big gift item, and that Ugg also benefited from the cold weather in much of the country.

Across the footwear category, Nordstrom reported strength in women’s and juniors’ shoes, while Saks singled out women’s styles as strong performers. Meanwhile, Kohl’s called out the footwear and accessories category in general.

More broadly, retailers appear to have gotten what they wanted out of December — an improvement in sales trends and margins and inventory levels that bode well for their fourth-quarter profits.

While decreases moderated for many and results even broke into positive territory for some, same-store sales at least improved over last year’s soft performance for nearly all. The news was especially good for the three high-end retailers reporting Thursday — Saks Inc., Neiman Marcus Inc. and Nordstrom Inc. — all of which reversed year-ago declines to post increases.

Saks posted a 9.9 percent comparable-store sales increase, half as large as the decrease registered in December 2008, and Nordstrom Inc. managed a 7.4 percent gain. Neiman Marcus Inc., down 27.5 percent in the comparable 2008 month, rose 4.9 percent.

In a positive sign for the bottom-line ramifications of the top-line results, numbers were healthy enough that several retailers, including Macy’s, Kohl’s, Nordstrom, Limited Brands, Sears Holdings and both The TJX Cos. and Ross Stores, lifted their fourth-quarter guidance, and others said they would land at the high end of previously issued projections.

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