Clearly, consumers had much to deal with in September. Those already juggling their budgets because of the high cost of gasoline had to contend with prices that kept soaring – to and sometimes past $3 a gallon. And the two hurricanes, particularly Katrina, have led to hundreds of thousands of job losses, making people across the country uneasy about the economy. The adverse economic effects of the hurricanes were evident in Thursday’s Labor Department report that the number of people thrown out of work from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita rose to 363,000 last week. An additional 74,000 hurricane-related claims for unemployment benefits were filed last week, up from 70,000 the previous week. The hurricanes’ impact is expected to be evident in the department’s jobs-creation figures, to be released today. Analysts expect a net drop of 172,000 jobs. Last week, The Conference Board said consumer confidence suffered its biggest drop in 15 years in September. There have also been other fresh government data pointing to a slowing economy. Amid such worries, several retail forecasters expect only modest growth for the holiday season from last year. The National Retail Federation projected sales in November and December will rise by 5 percent, less than the 6.7 percent gain in 2004. According to a survey of about 2,100 consumers conducted by NPD Group Inc., a market research firm in Port Washington, N.Y., shoppers plan to spend $681 each this holiday season, slightly more than the $655 they spent last year. Wal-Mart, which had seen its sales slow for months amid higher gasoline prices, had an easier time in September. The world’s largest retailer had a 3.8 percent increase in same-store sales, matching the consensus forecast of analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call. September’s business was boosted by post-hurricane demand for such staples as canned food, water and cleaning supplies and by higher-than-anticipated sales at Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club division because of gasoline prices. Many of the warehouse clubs sell gasoline. The retailer said the impact of the hurricanes on the third quarter will decrease profits by about a penny per share, but it is still sticking to its projected range of 55 cents to 59 cents. Rival Target Corp. had a 5.6 percent gain in same-store sales, better than the 4.9 percent estimate. Costco Wholesale Corp. reported an 11 percent increase in same-store sales, helped by the rise in gas prices. Excluding the effects of gas-price inflation, same-store sales would have been up 8 percent. Analysts expected a 6.7 percent gain. High-end stores reported decent gains, though Nordstrom Inc. posted a more modest same-store sales increase of 4.1 percent, below the 4.4 percent estimate. Neiman Marcus Group Inc. had robust 9.6 percent same-store sales increase, better than the 6 percent estimate. Among other department stores, Federated Department Stores Inc., whose acquisition of May Department Stores Inc. was completed Aug. 30, had a 1.3 percent increase, above the 0.6 percent forecast. Same-store sales include only Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s locations open for more than one fiscal year. J.C. Penney Co. Inc. had a 1.4 percent gain in same-store sales in its department stores, a bit below the 1.5 percent Wall Street estimate. Talbots suffered a 5.1 percent drop in same-store sales, far below the 2.3 percent gain Wall Street expected. Arnold B. Zetcher, chairman, president and chief executive officer of Talbots, said his company’s annual consumer survey indicated apparel demand is largely being hurt and spending delayed by “macro-economic factors.” “Our research indicates that concerns about rising fuel prices and the economy have created a more conservative mind set among the vast majority of those surveyed,” he said in a printed report. Ann Taylor had a 2.7 percent drop in same-store sales, worse than the 1.6 percent gain analysts expected. Kay Krill, president and CEO of Ann Taylor, said business was hurt by unusually warm weather, which dampened consumers’ appetite for cold-weather wear. Limited Brands had a 2 percent decline in same-store sales, matching Wall Street estimates. Gap suffered a 6 percent same-store sales drop, though that was better than the 7.2 percent decline Wall Street anticipated. Teen-merchandise retailers generally fared well. Abercrombie & Fitch Inc. reported a 21 percent increase in same-store sales in September. Analysts had expected 16.4 percent. Hot Topic Inc. struggled with a 5.6 percent decline in same-store sales, but it was better than the 6.4 percent drop analysts expected. American Eagle Outfitters Inc. had reported on Wednesday a 13 percent increase in same-store sales for September, surpassing the 10.7 percent estimate. 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set! NEW YORK – The outlook for the holiday shopping season grew murkier Thursday as September results from the nation’s big retailers suggested that consumer anxiety about the economy is growing. Discounters like Wal-Mart Stores Inc. had a solid month in sales as Americans, struggling with higher gasoline prices and the economic fallout from Hurricane Katrina, shopped for basics. But results were disappointing at mall-based apparel stores including Gap Inc., Ann Taylor Corp. and Talbots Inc. The question now is how generous shoppers will be during the holiday season. “Uncertainty is always bad for retailers,” said Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at The International Council of Shopping Centers. “And that uncertainty did not vanish with (Thursday) reports. We have the same worries about gasoline prices, home heating and the sustainability of consumer demand.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREThe top 10 theme park moments of 2019 The only certainty, Niemira added, is that the broad retailing trend hasn’t changed: Retailers in teen and high-end merchandise continue to do generally well while the rest of the industry struggles. The International Council of Shopping Centers-UBS sales tally of 71 retailers rose a better-than-expected 4 percent in September, about the same pace merchants have seen all year, but Niemira warned that the sales figures don’t tell the whole story. The tally is based on same-store sales – sales at stores open for at least a year. “Overall, the numbers look OK on the surface, but they mask a lot of the story line, and the story line is probably not as positive as the numbers look,” he said. “It is a very mixed reading.” Richard Hastings, senior retail analyst at Bernard Sands LLC, expects that this holiday season will be the most heavily discounted since 2002 as merchants try to woo uneasy shoppers. “We are starting to see some cooling off of the overall consumer attitude,” he said.