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Wall Street is declaring Gap Inc. the "weekend winner" as strong department store traffic over Thanksgiving and Black Friday hints at a better-than-expected holiday season.
While analysts were impressed with mall shopping overall, several said Gap companies including Old Navy were the biggest surprises.
"Traffic and conversion appeared solid on Black Friday, despite sales continuing to be dispersed throughout the entire weekend and an ongoing migration of Black Friday shopping online," wrote Jefferies analyst Randal Konik. "Old Navy and Gap both offered a 50 percent off store-wide sale, essentially flat to last year, which seemed successful in driving traffic and conversion."
"We believe holiday is off to a strong start at The Gap and reiterate our buy rating."
Konik also said that Gap and Old Navy's performance came even though its discounts were similar to those in prior years. He noted that Banana Republic broadened its 50 percent-off discount to all regular-priced merchandise.
Shares of Gap have outperformed the market this year — up more than 32 percent versus the S&P 500's 16 percent climb. Shares closed up 1.2 percent Monday. SunTrust analyst Pamela Quintiliano also praised Gap's strong showing.
"Old Navy was the on-mall holiday weekend winner followed by American Eagle and Express," Quintiliano wrote on Monday. "Our biggest surprise was mall traffic, which was above our expectations despite online continuing to gain broad-based momentum. Throughout the weekend, traffic and conversion were consistently higher than we have seen in years."
Citing retail researcher ShopperTrak, the analyst noted that the "big win" was that traffic was down under 1 percent on Black Friday and declined just over 1.6 percent for Thanksgiving and Black Friday combined. Adobe Analytics calculated that Thanksgiving online spending rose 18 percent.
"The weekend looked pretty good," retail expert Dana Telsey said on CNBC's "Squawk Box" on Monday. "For the most part, promotions were the same as last year. That's encouraging. The fact that traffic was essentially flat is a good thing. You're not seeing the deterioration."
"You know, Gap, Old Navy? There were lines out the door," she added. "Gap is probably the one that's going to be one of the surprising ones."