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Byline: Meredith Derby, With contributions from Liza Casabona
NEW YORK - Warm weather in January made retail sales hot, but the snow and cold of February created a chill in stores.
The shortest month of the year brought retailers some of the weakest same-store sales gains of the last 12 months. The month's average gain of 3.2 percent was the lowest in nine months, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. Still, February, with a record mid-month blizzard in parts of the Northeast that iced spring apparel sales, wasn't a complete whiteout, given that retailers faced tough year-over-year sales comparisons.
Mass merchant Target Corp. posted a 3.6 percent rise in February comps, while rival Wal-Mart Stores Inc. had a 2.9 percent increase. Both were ahead of expectations and up against respective 9 percent and 4.1 percent comps from February 2005.
However, Gap Inc.'s consolidated 11 percent decline in February same-store sales - it tracks sales at stores open at least a year - came in much weaker than projections, which were for a 5.9 percent decrease. And Abercrombie & Fitch Co. said comps were up …