L Brands, the parent of Victoria's Secret, and Costco Wholesale Corp. were among the chains that reported results that missed Wall Street estimates, while Stein Mart Inc. posted results that beat analysts' expectations. Gap Inc., which operates its namesake chain, Old Navy and Banana Republic, reported a surprise drop, stalling momentum it had enjoyed since early last year.
Only a sliver of retail chains report monthly sales figures, and the list doesn't include Wal-Mart Stores, Macy's Inc. and many other large chains. But the available reports offer some clues into consumer spending heading into the holiday shopping season.
September was a difficult month. Warmer-than-usual weather hurt sales of sweaters and other fall clothes. But economic concerns also dampened sales.
Shoppers worry that the partial government shutdown, which is on its 10th day and has forced several hundred thousand federal workers off the job, will be prolonged. That, and the possibility that politicians won't resolve their deadlock over the federal debt limit before the U.S. Treasury's borrowing authority is exhausted next week, adds to the concerns.
But hope was rising that the deadlock will be resolved soon. Republican leaders said Thursday they would vote to extend the government's borrowing authority for six weeks. A spokesman for Obama said the president would "likely" sign a bill to increase the nation's ability to borrow money so it can continue paying its bills.
The worries from Washington had compounded challenges retailers have had in trying to get shoppers spending again. The job and housing markets are improving, but that hasn't yet translated into sustained spending increases among most shoppers.