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Retailers of all stripes sing holiday blues

Discounts appear to have cut into retailers’ profits during the holidays.
Discounts appear to have cut into retailers’ profits during the holidays.Lucas Jackson/Reuters/File 2013

NEW YORK — Several big retailers slashed fiscal fourth-quarter profit forecasts this week, the latest sign Americans didn’t spend briskly during the holiday season.

American Eagle Outfitters and Bed Bath & Beyond are among seven chains that so far have cut their expectations for their fiscal fourth quarter, which includes holiday shopping, when stores can make up to 40 percent of their annual sales.

Retailers discounted early and often to get shoppers into stores. It appears discounts got people to spend — sales for November and December rose a better-than-expected 2.7 percent to $265.9 billion, according to ShopperTrak.

But the price cuts ate away at profits.

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Bed Bath & Beyond Inc. on Wednesday lowered its earnings forecast for the fiscal fourth quarter and full year; its third-quarter results missed analysts’ expectations.

Pier 1 Imports Inc. also downgraded its forecasts, citing a disappointing December.

And American Eagle Outfitters Inc. said sales at stores open at least a year fell 7 percent in the nine weeks that ended Jan. 4, versus a year earlier.

After a solid Thanksgiving weekend, sales through Christmas slowed, American Eagle said.

All told, Ken Perkins, president of RetailMetrics LLC, said fourth-quarter earnings growth for the 120 stores he tracks is expected to be up 1.2 percent, the weakest performance since the 6.7 percent drop in the second quarter of 2009.

‘‘This was a holiday season that most stores would like to forget,’’ he said.