A week into the new year but - at least by the time Retail Week went to press - few formal profit warnings so far.

There have been administrations aplenty. RIP Woolworths, Zavvi, Adams, Whittard and the rest. But it must be admitted, sad as the failures are, that the fallen were in the main weak businesses. After a moment's respectful silence, life goes on and the lack of Titanic-style profit upsets represents a shred of comfort in a season of little cheer.

Yes, profit expectations at many retailers were slashed back at the rate of the Amazon rainforest in recent months. Yes, jobs have been lost and there will be more P45s in the post. And yes, consumers will remain reluctant to spend. There are big problems on the horizon too, such as the impact of sterling's weakness on stores' buying power.

In the face of adversity, however, many retailers have acted in order to ride out the rough times. They have cut costs, improved efficiency and managed stock effectively to successfully distance themselves from the weaklings.

Despite resisting the rush to pre-Christmas discounting, Next met expectations over Christmas and began 2009 with less stock on Sale than last year. Like Debenhams and Dunelm, Next's skilful management meant it avoided that City sin - springing nasty surprises. Investors do not like comparable store sales slips at Christmas but they will live with them when they have been primed on the likelihood.

Who would have guessed a year ago that stores would suffer sheer like-for-like falls during the traditional golden period of Christmas? Store stocks took a hammering last year and there will of course be upsets this year. But if expectations - even reduced expectations - are met then retailers can hope for a partial rehabilitation in the City.

City stars of 2009

Who might be retail's share price stars in 2009? Defensive positions, seasoned management and multichannel capabilities are likely to be among the general merchandise winners' characteristics. Mothercare ticks all the boxes and home shopping giant N Brown looks solid. WHSmith should continue its steady course and Halfords will motor on.

There could be some surprises too. Sir David Jones's assumption of executive responsibilities at JJB Sports raises interesting prospects, although it would still be a brave investor who piled in there.

George MacDonald is deputy editor of Retail Week