Rob Black's Retail Stock Report

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Includes: COST, MCD, SKS, TGT
by: Rob Black

Retail sales for the week ended June 17 fell 3.9% compared with the same period last year. On a week-over-week basis, sales were unchanged. For the month of June, same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least a year, are expected to increase by 2.5% to 3% with a "tough" comparison against June 2005.

Scolded by short women across the country, Saks Fifth Avenue (NYSE:SKS) said that it would re-establish its petite women's clothing department, which the company had quietly dropped several months ago because of poor sales. The decision, a victory for millions of women shorter than 5-foot-4, came after Saks received scores of letters from smaller shoppers felt alienated in a store that had dressed them for decades.

Darden Restaurants (NYSE:DRI) approved the buyback of an additional 25 million shares of its common stock.

McDonald's (NYSE:MCD), the world's largest restaurant company, will start a chain of drive-through fast-food outlets in mainland China with the country's biggest gas station operator, China Petroleum & Chemical. As car ownership takes off in China they should be serving food at some of the 30,000 gas stations of China Petroleum or Sinopec. McDonald's aims to narrow the gap with Yum! Brands, the country's No. 1 restaurant operator. At stake are shares of a restaurant industry expected to top 1 trillion yuan ($125 billion) in sales this year. McDonald's sales are growing at a faster pace abroad than at home. Sales in Asia, the Middle East and Africa climbed 6.5 percent in May from a year earlier, compared with 3.4 percent at restaurants in America. As incomes rise, the Chinese are spending more on dining out. Restaurant sales rose 17.7 percent. The location of Sinopec's gas stations, on ``prime real estate'' in major cities, will help McDonald's.

Target (NYSE:TGT), the second-largest U.S. discount chain, said June sales may come in at the upper end of its forecasts. Target is boosting sales by adding designer goods and luring customers with sleek television advertisements to compete with Wal-Mart.

J.P. Morgan upgraded Costco (NASDAQ:COST) to overweight. The firm is saying it expects Costco's comparable sales in the second half of the year to outpace competitors. J.P. Morgan added it also sees pretax margin at Costco improving. The broker also said Costco is under-leveraged, giving it the capacity to increase share buybacks and dividends.