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Nordstrom's 4Q offers clues on affluent's spending

NEW YORK (AP) -- Nordstrom Inc. reports its fiscal fourth-quarter results after the market closes Thursday, which should give insight into the strength of the luxury sector.

WHAT TO WATCH FOR: Spending on high-end items has recovered since the financial meltdown in late 2008, but uncertainty about the economy has grown in recent months. Still, the rallying stock market is good news for luxury retailers as their affluent shoppers see their portfolios grow.

Analysts will also want more updates on how Nordstrom is rethinking customer service given the new challenges posed by shoppers armed with smartphones and tablets.

In late 2011, Nordstrom started offering free shipping on all online purchases with no minimum purchase. Previously, customers had to spend at least $200 to qualify. Return shipping is free now, too.

The company is also giving sales associates devices that let them check out purchases anywhere in the store. Nordstrom is also providing free Wi-Fi access in all of its full-line department store.

Nordstrom also partnered with Arcadia Group to launch shops under the British company's Topshop and Topman brands in 14 of its 117 full-scale departments last fall.

Nordstrom is looking for growth beyond the U.S. and announced last fall that it was heading to Canada, starting in 2014. It's teaming up with Canadian mall developer Cadillac Fairview to open four stores, in Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto and Vancouver.

Sales at Nordstrom have been strong. For January, revenue at stores opened at least a year rose 11.4 percent. That topped the 6 percent rise that analysts polled by Thomson Reuters expected.

Revenue at stores open at least a year is a key indicator of a retailer's health because it excludes stores recently opened or closed.

For the fourth quarter, Nordstrom's revenue at stores opened at least a year rose 6.3 percent.

WHY IT MATTERS: Nordstrom, based in Seattle, is considered a barometer of luxury spending. Investors and others are watching whether growth in that sector will continue. That would be a good sign for the economic recovery since affluent shoppers have helped to prop up overall spending.

WHAT'S EXPECTED: Nordstrom is expected to earn $1.35 per share on total revenue of $3.69 billion, according to FactSet.

LAST'S YEAR'S QUARTER: Nordstrom earned $1.11 per share on $3.26 billion in revenue