U.S. consumers hit by perfect storm of events

http://feeds.reuters.com/~r/reuters/businessNews/~3/a3NAJjPBxzQ/story01.htm (Reuters) - January was a tough end to a tough holiday season for U.S. retailers.

Shoppers last month continued to pinch their pennies, seeking out bargains and paying fewer visits to stores. They also were unnerved by slumping stock markets and impeded from shopping by an unusually cold and snowy January that, because of high heating bills, could hurt retail sales well into the spring, analysts said.

"Consumers are being hit by a perfect storm of events," said Craig Johnson, president of advisory firm Customer Growth Partners. "It's a bloodbath."

Kohl's Corp (KSS.N) on Thursday said sales in January were "significantly" lower than expected as shoppers stayed away. The department store chain reported a 2 percent decline in quarterly comparable sales, those online and at stores open at least a year, despite a good start to the holiday season.

Analysts expect a group of nine retailers that report these results on a monthly basis to show a 2 percent rise in comparable sales for January, well below the 4.9 percent growth of a year earlier, according to Thomson Reuters.

Some chains managed to register sales gains, but those came either at the expense of rivals or profit margins.

Costco Wholesale Corp (COST.O) said its same-store sales rose 5 percent in January, with fresh food a popular item for its bargain-seeking members. That contrasted with a quarterly decline at Wal-Mart Stores Inc's (WMT.N) Sam's Club chain.

Victoria's Secret parent L Brands Inc (LB.N) posted a much bigger-than-expected jump of 9 percent in comparable sales. But the company said its profit margin was "significantly" lower after it had to deepen discounts and hold sales events longer. The retailer expects only modest sales gains in February.

The consumer mood seemed to sour last month. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index slipped to 81.2 in January from 82.5 in December. Confidence fell acutely among households with annual incomes below $75,000.

Also in January, the Dow Jones Industrial Index .DJI tumbled 5.3 percent, and the Standard & Poor's 500 .SPX slid 3.6 percent, their worst monthly percentage declines since May 2012.

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