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J.C. Penney Oct. sales comparison off 4.5 percent

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J.C. Penney Co. Inc. on Thursday said sales at stores open at least a year fell 4.5 percent in October, hurt in part by Halloween landing on Saturday.

Shares fell in morning trading.

While results missed analysts’ target, it was a slightly better performance than the retailer expected, and it raised its third-quarter profit outlook.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters expected a decline of 2.3 percent. J.C. Penney had forecast a decline of 5 percent to 8 percent.

The figure is an important gauge of retail health, because it measures performance at existing stores, rather than newly opened ones.

Total sales for the four week period dropped 3.5 percent to $1.31 billion, from $1.36 billion in October 2008.

J.C. Penney said sales were better than expected in the first half of the month, but slowed in the third week and dropped below projections in the fourth. Halloween landing on Saturday hurt results, the company said in a recorded message, as the number of customers and the amount of their purchases both fell. The company said the Saturday holiday shaved 2.5 percent off its results.

For the third quarter, sales fell 3.2 percent to $4.18 billion from $4.32 billion, a year earlier, and were just below analysts’ expectation of $4.17 billion.

The company now expects profit for the third quarter of 10 cents to 11 cents per share, including a 3-cent per-share charge related to real estate impairments. That’s up from its prior projection for profit between 3 and 10 cents per share.

Analysts polled by Thomson Reuters, on average, expect profit of 11 cents per share, with estimates ranging from 7 cents to 22 cents.

J.C. Penney said it expects sales at stores open a year or more to fall 4 percent to 7 percent in November, compared with an 11.9 percent slide last year.

J.C. Penney shares slid $2.21, or 6.9 percent, to $29.87 in morning trading.

© 2009 Associated Press. Displayed by permission. All rights reserved.

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