Retail Stores-Sales

FILE - This June 29, 2016 file photo shows a Target store in Hialeah, Fla. Target shoppers took full advantage of the retailer’s pickup and drive up services over the holiday season, climbing 60 percent from a year earlier and making up a quarter of the chain’s online sales for the November-December period. Target Corp. also announced Thursday, Jan. 9, 2019 that sales at stores open at least a year increased 5.7 percent in the period, up from 3.4 percent a year earlier. (AP Photo/Alan Diaz)

NEW YORK (AP) — It was supposed to be a great holiday shopping season. Many investors had expected department stores to enjoy robust sales in light of a U.S. economy buoyed by low unemployment, higher wages, strong consumer confidence and cheap gas.

So when Macy’s and Kohl’s reported lackluster numbers on Thursday, they were taken aback, sending retail stocks into a tailspin and calling into question whether such mall-based chains can compete in a changing landscape where shoppers are shifting more of their spending online.

Macy’s saw only a slight increase of 1.1 percent in sales during November-December at stores opened at least year. And while sales were strong during Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the company said sales fell off noticeably until the

week of Christmas.

Meanwhile, Kohl’s reported a small sales growth that showed a dramatic slowdown from a year ago. Comparable sales rose 1.2 percent, versus 6.9 percent

in the previous year.

Shares of Macy’s plummeted nearly 18 percent Thursday, suffering its worst one-day decline. Kohl’s stock closed down nearly 5 percent. Even Target’s stock took a hit, falling nearly 3 percent despite showing strong holiday sales.

Earlier this week, J.C. Penney, one of the stragglers in the department store sector, reported a drop in comparable store sales of 3.5 percent for November and December. But because Macy’s is considered a barometer of spending, particularly for the middle class and for mall spending, investors may be looking for deeper meaning in its performance.

“Macy’s report spooked investors because investors expected it to be a great holiday season across the board,” said Neil Saunders, managing director at GlobalData Retail, a retail research firm. “Now, they’re questioning how good the holiday season was. There is a lot of uncertainty out there.”

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