NEW YORK — Americans spent briskly in October before Hurricane Sandy hit the Northeast on the tail end of the month. But are they willing to buy an iPhone for Christmas if they plunked down hundreds on a generator for Sandy?
Twenty-one retailers, from club operator Costco to the department store Macy’s, reported that sales in October through last Saturday were up 5 percent, compared with the year-earlier period, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. That beat the trade group’s estimated growth of 3.5 to 4.5 percent. The storm hit the East Coast Monday, two days after the period for reporting sales.
But analysts worry that strong sales in October could spell trouble for the holiday season. In November and December, many retailers make up to 40 percent of annual revenue. They fear that Americans who bought generators, bottled water, and other emergency and cleanup supplies because of the storm will spend less over the holidays.
As Americans deal with a slow economic recovery, Sandy gives some another reason to cut spending. Few retailers offered details Thursday on how their sales were affected by the storm, but it is expected to cost them billions in lost sales.
October’s sales reports do not offer a complete picture. They includes sales until Saturday, a few days before Sandy hit. And only a handful of retailers, representing 13 percent of the $2.4 trillion US retail industry, report monthly results, which are based on revenue at stores open at least a year. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., and home improvement chains like Home Depot do not report sales.
But so far, the effects of Hurricane Sandy mostly are expected to be a wash. Home improvement chains and food stores are expected to benefit; department stores, clothing retailers, and others that sell discretionary items may suffer.
‘‘People are going to be focused on getting their life back in order, and holiday could be secondary,’’ said Laura Gurski, global head of A.T. Kearney’s retail practice.
Wal-Mart said 12 of its namesake stores, distribution centers and Sam’s Clubs remained closed, down from 300 on Monday. ‘‘Business was strong in October,’’ said Terry J. Lundgren, chief executive. ‘‘We are feeling confident about our prospects for the upcoming holiday season,” despite Sandy. Home Depot said its stores are busy, as one would expect. Macy’s, which generates 8 percent of its annual revenue in New York City, said it hopes to recoup most of its lost sales before year’s end. More than 200 Macy’s and Bloomingdale’s stores were closed for some period of time for the storm.