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October sales figures are being reported from retailers, with confusingly different data from two national companies based in the Northwest. Nordstrom, as our Mark D.

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Nordstrom and Costco Financial Results Both Confirm and Confound Recession Thinking

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October sales figures are being reported from retailers, with confusingly different data from two national companies based in the Northwest. Nordstrom, as our Mark D. Fefer recently wrote, has seen sales decline 13 percent at its top-tier stores. (At the same time, it's been expanding the Nordstrom Rack discount line of stores.) This would seem to align with conventional thinking about the recession--we're all feeling poorer, shopping for price instead of brands, steering our dollars to value retailers like Target and Wal-Mart.

But here's contrarian trend, as reported by Thomson Reuters and The New York Times: Nordstrom same-store sales for October went up 6.5 percent compared to the same month last year. Good news, right?

Nordstrom won't provide detailed third quarter info until Nov. 12, but the company does specify how its October growth is divided. And here we reach the recession crux...

According to Nordstrom, its same-store Rack sales are up 6 percent and the "full-line" stores up 3.7 percent. When you look at the year-to-date, however, the company says full-line is down 11.4 percent compared to 2008 and Rack up 1.8 percent. So while October is encouraging, the overall financial picture isn't so rosy.

Over in Issaquah, Costco is up 5 percent in net sales for October, which is more in line with the conventional wisdom. (Shoppers want value, value, value when they fill up their SUVs with groceries.) But when the company parses those figures a bit more, adjusting for foreign currency exchange rates and gasoline deflation, looking only at U.S. stores for October, it's only up 3 percent for the month.

What's the takeaway? Although this financial news isn't great, it indicates improvement over October of last year, when the recession was newer, more acutely felt, and shoppers really put the brakes on their spending. And it marks a somewhat promising local retail trend as the holiday shopping season nears.

 
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