Consumer Nation

Higher Retail Sales Seen for August, Despite Irene

Even before Hurricane Irene shuttered stores from North Carolina to Vermont — keeping millions of shoppers at home — analysts were expecting that it was going to be a challenging back-to-school season.

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On Thursday, a number of retailers will issue their monthly sales reports, hopefully providing a better sense of consumer spending is measuring up.

On average, analysts are expecting solid sales for August. The Thomson Same-Store Sales Index is expected to rise 4.6 percent, compared with a 3.2 percent gain in the same period last year.

Back-to-school season, which extends from July through September, is an important time for retailers because it is the second busiest time after the Christmas holiday season.

Spending forecasts issued by analysts have been mixed, but the industry's own trade group, the National Retail Federation is expecting back-to-school spending to be flat with last year.

Certainly, there has been a fierce fight among the teen apparel retailers, which have been aggressively marking down their merchandise, hoping to lure people into their stores with promises of the best prices.

JPMorgan analyst Brian Tunick told CNBC that there hasn't been a lot of new fashion to drive teens into the stores, so price is being used to drive store traffic.

Still, Tunick has seen some positive signs for consumer spending.

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"One thing that's been interesting to us is that consumers are starting to take on more leverage in their revolving credit in the last three months, so we've seen the consumer start to reach a little deeper and take on more credit, so maybe that's where more spending power is going to come in the back half of the year,"  Tunick said.

Irene also may not have been a told washout for retailers.

"I think it delays the shopping a little bit or it moves some of the sales online," said Christine Chen, a retail analyst at Needham & Co. "But if your kids are outgrowing their clothes, they are still need to get new ones, and you either shop online or when the weather lifts you get out and shop."

Chen, who is based on the West Coast, out of the path of the recent, said malls in her area have been "very busy."

Chen expects Abercrombie & Fitch has been taking market share, while Gap is losing ground despite its efforts to advertise sales and special discounts such as its recent "Friends and Family" promotion.

Gap will be among the retailers reporting Thursday, but Abercrombie no longer reports sales on a monthly basis.

Here are select same-store sales estimates published by Thomson Reuters.

Questions? Comments? Email us at Follow Christina Cheddar Berk on Twitter @ccheddarberk.