WRAPUP 2-Weak start to November hits some big U.S. retailers
* Same-store sales at Target, Gap, Macy's miss expectations
* Same-store sales at Limited top expectations
* Sandy blamed for some weakness early in the month
Nov 29 (Reuters) - Leading U.S. retailers said weak sales in early November, when people in the Northeast were cleaning up after superstorm Sandy, dragged down results for the month, despite brisk activity over the long Thanksgiving weekend.
Target Corp and Macy's Inc, two of the biggest companies to report monthly sales on Thursday, missed analysts' expectations. Both said the weakness came at the beginning of November, not during the Thanksgiving weekend rush.
Nordstrom Inc also blamed its disappointing November sales on a lackluster first half of the month, both because of Sandy and a poor showing at its sale for women and kids.
Overall, retailers on average reported a 1.6 percent increase in sales at stores open at least a year, about half the 3.3 percent rise that analysts had forecast, according to Thomson Reuters I/B/E/S. The results include data from 16 retailers, but not drugstores. Zumiez Inc reports later on Thursday.
Same-store sales at the chains that report them are closely watched for indications of consumer spending during the beginning of the holiday season. Analysts had not expected the November results to match the 3.5 percent gain of a year earlier.
Discounts reign during the holiday season, with stores hopeful that customers who come in for deals such as Thanksgiving weekend "doorbusters" also pick up items that are not heavily marked down.
Madison Riley, managing director at retail consulting firm Kurt Salmon, said there had been "a lot of very heavy promotions" during Thanksgiving weekend.
"I think a lot of that consumer activity was focused on the doorbusters, and I don't know how much it broadened into the full store assortment," Riley said. "It may be a bit of a squeeze from a margin standpoint."
Fifty-two percent of Black Friday shoppers who participated in a Reuters/Ipsos poll said they had stayed on budget, and 34 percent said they had spent less than planned. Only 14 percent said they had gone over budget.
Despite the largest-volume Thanksgiving weekend in Macy's Inc's history, the department store operator was not able to overcome the weak start of November, Chief Executive Officer Terry Lundgren said in a statement.
While Macy's posted an unexpected same-store sales decline, the company is on track for a "very strong" performance in the current, holiday quarter, Lundgren said.
Target's 1 percent decline in same-store sales stemmed from weakness in the first two weeks of November, CEO Gregg Steinhafel said in a statement. Sales picked up later in the month, and profitability was as planned, Steinhafel added.
Limited Brands Inc said its same-store sales had risen 5 percent, including a hit of one to two percentage points from Sandy. The results topped analysts' expectations for a 3.1 percent increase.
Gap Inc's comparable sales rose 3 percent, while Wall Street was expecting a rise of 3.9 percent. However, all of the company's brands did better than last year, led by a turnaround at Old Navy, which lured shoppers on Black Friday with items such as $15 jeans and $5 fleece jackets.
Fitch Ratings said on Wednesday that it expected 2012 holiday retail sales to grow between 3 percent and 4 percent, down from a 5.6 percent increase in 2011, even though the season got off to a strong start.
The National Retail Federation still expects sales in November and December to rise 4.1 percent this year, below last year's 5.6 percent increase. Total spending was up 12.8 percent at $59.1 billion over the long Thanksgiving weekend, according to an NRF survey.
Cyber Monday deals are not a factor in retailers' November reports, as most chains are reporting their sales through Saturday, Nov. 24. Cyber Monday, the Monday after Thanksgiving that this year fell on Nov. 26, was reportedly the biggest online shopping day ever.
Some retailers that analysts have said did well over the weekend, such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc and online leader Amazon.com Inc, do not report monthly sales.
Same-store sales at Costco Wholesale Corp, the biggest chain that issues monthly reports, rose a better-than-expected 6 percent, the warehouse club operator said on Wednesday.