The nation's retailers got a little reprieve in February, as consumers hesitantly returned to malls and stores after retrenching in recent...

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NEW YORK — The nation’s retailers got a little reprieve in February, as consumers hesitantly returned to malls and stores after retrenching in recent months. Among the big winners were discounters like Wal-Mart, whose results beat expectations.

“On the whole, it looks more positive than I would have expected,” said Russell Jones, director of AlixPartners, a consulting company. “But people are definitely focusing on the core things they need to buy. You are really seeing a trading down.”

The UBS-International Council of Shopping Centers preliminary sales tally of 39 retailers rose 1.9 percent last month, exceeding the estimated 0.5 percent to 1 percent.

Among the weakest performers were apparel stores. J.C. Penney reported same-store sales down 6.7 percent, missing the 2.2 percent estimate.

Nordstrom posted a 5.8 percent decline in same-store sales, worse than the 3.5 percent analysts expected. Nordstrom shares fell $2.34, or 6.3 percent, to $35 on Thursday.

Wal-Mart reported a 2.6 percent gain in same-store sales. Analysts surveyed by Thomson Financial expected a 1.1 percent gain.

On Wednesday, Issaquah-based Costco Wholesale reported a 7 percent increase in same-store sales, equaling estimates. Costco shares fell $1.56 Wednesday on analysts’ concerns about Costco’s profit margin, and slipped an additional 79 cents, or 1.3 percent, to close at $60.04 on Thursday.

Also Wednesday, Everett-based action-sports retailer Zumiez reported same-store sales fell 2.6 percent for the four weeks ended March 1, compared with an increase of 12.4 percent in the year-ago period. On Thursday, Zumiez shares plunged $3.08, or 17.5 percent, to $14.48.