By Phil Wahba
(Reuters) - Stubbornly high unemployment and anxiety about the economy in June took a toll on top U.S. retailers' sales last month, raising concerns shoppers are returning to penny-pinching.
Costco Wholesale Corp <COST.O>, Macy's Inc <M.N>, Kohl's Corp <KSS.N> and Target Corp <TGT.N> were among the chains that reported disappointing June sales at stores open at least a year.
"In part, this was a function of a macroeconomic environment that is stagnant at best," Macy's Chief Executive Terry Lundgren said in statement.
At the same time, off-price chains TJX Cos Inc <TJX.N>, which runs the T.J. Maxx chain, and Ross Stores Inc <ROST.O>, reported some of the largest gains as shoppers continued to look for deals on designer-brand clothes and home goods. Both chains raised their second-quarter profit forecasts.
"In June, the consumer put on a very cautious hat, they started pulling back," said Keith Jelinek, a director in AlixPartners' global retail practice. He predicted shoppers would continue to be careful about splurging on non-essential items before children head back to school.
Analysts expected 18 top retail chains to report a modest 2.4 percent gain in June same-store sales, according to the Thomson Reuters same-store sales index - far less than the 7.7 percent gain a year earlier. The estimate excluded the Walgreen Co <WAG.N> and Rite Aid Corp <RAD.N> drugstore chains.
Smaller chains like Cato Corp <CATO.N>, teen apparel seller Wet Seal Inc <WTSLA.O> and The Buckle Inc <BKE.N> also reported same-store sales that came in below estimates.
Walgreen and Rite Aid reported declines in same-store sales.
Costco Wholesale Corp reported a company-wide 3 percent increase in same-store sales, below estimates of a 3.7 percent gain, hurt by unfavorable exchange rates. The warehouse club operator's U.S. sales also came in below Wall Street views.
Macy's reported a 1.2 percent increase, below Wall Street expectations of 1.9 percent; Target's 2.1 percent gain was also below analyst projections.
Limited Brands Inc <LTD.N> was a rare standout , reporting a 7 percent same-store sales gain for June, led by its Victoria's Secret lingerie chain. Limited easily beat the estimate of a 2.4 percent rise.
Affluent shoppers appeared to be unscathed by the volatile stock markets. Upscale chains Saks Inc <SKS.N> and Nordstrom Inc <JWN.N> reported strong June sales that were better than expected.
Still, a steady stream of weak economic reports, stubbornly high unemployment and a volatile stock market have affected shopping habits. The Thomson Reuters/University of Michigan's consumer sentiment index tumbled to 73.2 in June from 79.3 in May.
The U.S. manufacturing sector grew in June at its most sluggish rate in 18 months as the pace of output, hiring and new orders all slowed, the Markit U.S. Manufacturing Purchasing Managers Index showed on Monday.
After retailers posted good results early in the spring, several analysts said warm weather may have spurred people to buy summers clothing earlier, simply shifting sales from later months like June.
(Reporting By Phil Wahba in New York; editing by Jeffrey Benkoe and Maureen Bavdek)
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