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Blizzard a mixed blessing for winter gear sellers

A weekend blizzard that's expected to dump more than a foot of snow on much of the Eastern United States will be cold comfort for sellers of winter clothing who've been stuck with huge inventories due to unusually warm weather earlier in the season.

"The stuff is already marked down 70 percent," said retail consultant Howard Davidowitz of Davidowitz & Associates.

Retailers aren't going to start raising prices in the face of any sudden rush by shoppers for heavy coats, boots and other snowy gear, he said, adding: "It may help a little bit with liquidation."

Macy's (M), the largest department store chain, along with apparel retailers Gap (GPS) and Burlington Stores (BURL) are just a few of the names on a laundry list of companies that have attributed their disappointing financial performance to the weather. Shares of Macy's and Gap are each down more than 30 percent over the past year. Burlington, known for its outerwear, recently lowered its financial estimates, although shares are up about 3 percent for the past 52 weeks as management delivered better earnings than many analysts projected.

Thousands of flights canceled as blizzard moves northeast

Specialty apparel stores lost out on an estimated $572 million in sales because of the unusually warm weather in many parts of the U.S. between November 1 and December 31, according to data from research firm Planalytics.

"They started to mark this stuff down in December because it was so damn warm," Brian Yarbrough, an analyst with Edward Jones, told CBS MoneyWatch. "If they don't move it in January, then it's going to have to be marked off by 80 percent to 90 percent. Or they are going to have to pack it away and pull it out again next year."

Among the companies that may benefit from the storm are hardware chains such as Home Depot (HD) and Lowe's (LOW) along with smaller rivals such as True Value as worried shoppers stock up on storm supplies like snow blowers, shovels and road salt.

Walmart (WMT) also will be helped by the weather since it sells snow equipment along with groceries, which many people stockpile during bad weather. Among the top sellers: milk, batteries, milk and alcohol.

"It could be a real boost for Walmart," Davidowitz said.

NASA-NOAA's Suomi NPP satellite snapped this image of the approaching blizzard around 2:35 a.m. EST on Jan. 22, 2016. NOAA/NASA

Though major storms can provide opportunities for retailers, they carry risks as well -- such as losing sales if they are forced to shut down stores.

"If stores are shut down for three or four days, then that's three or four days of lost sales," Yarbrough said. "That's a lot of sales to make up for."

If the first big blizzard of 2016 comes in as forecast, it could result in $585 to $850 million in lost economic activity, according to Planalytics. The loss tally also takes into account the substantial economic boost from shoppers' buying binges in the days before a major weather event.

"The bulk of the impact of this storm will be Saturday," the research firm noted. "The sectors that will be most significantly impacted will be retail, restaurant, and entertainment, as a large portion of these transactions do not 'rubber band' -- come back after the storm passes."

The firm projected net economic losses of around $70 million for the New York City metro area and $275 million for the combined Baltimore and Washington, D.C., areas. Even though the latter is much smaller than New York, the impact should be significantly greater due to the higher snowfall totals expected.

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