Back-to-School Sales Boost Retail Stocks

August retail sales surged thanks to the usual back-to-school shopping rush. And several retail stocks are reaping the benefits today.

Same-store sales rose significantly at large U.S. retailers such as Target (NYSE: TGT), Macy’s (NYSE: M) and Costco (NASDAQ: COST) last month. But it’s the smaller and mid-sized retailers that are seeing the improved August sales affect their stock prices.

Shares of Gap (NYSE: GPS), a company that also owns clothing and accessories stores Banana Republic, Old Navy and Piperlime, have climbed more than 3% today after reporting huge improvements in its same-store sales.

Gap’s sales were up 9% from last August – well ahead of the 5.4% jump analysts were expecting. Sales at Old Navy did even better, improving 12% from a year ago.

Buckle (NYSE: BKE), a designer-jeans store and small-cap stock, saw its shares bounce 5.6% after a 4.5% jump in its same-store sales. Analysts were expecting a 0.3% drop in sales.

Stage Stores (NYSE: SSI) is a regional retailer that’s also making a strong move. Shares of the Texas-based department-store chain advanced 3% after sales increased 6.5% in August – double what analysts were projecting.

As for the big boys, Costco is making the biggest move. The members-only wholesaler saw a 6% increase in its same-store sales. That pushed shares of the retail stock up 2% on late-afternoon trading.

That the market is falling as fast as it has all month today makes those retail stocks’ moves all the more impressive. The S&P 500 was down 0.6% with an hour left of trading still to go. The Nasdaq was down 0.85%.

The improved August sales are another step forward for a U.S. economy that has been showing signs of life lately.

It also shows that the average consumer may not be as worried about the fiscal cliff or the European debt crisis as the average investor is.

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