updated 4/8/2004 9:09:58 AM ET 2004-04-08T13:09:58

Warmer weather and appealing fashions lifted many of the nation's retailers to their fourth straight month of solid sales during March. Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Costco Wholesale Corp., Limited Brands, and Nordstrom Inc. all had results that topped Wall Street forecasts.

Major Market Indices

The robust results, released by retailers early Thursday, cut across industry sectors.

"The month will be the strongest of the year so far," said Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at The International Council of Shopping Centers.

He said the International Council of Shopping Center-UBS sales tally should be up 6.5 percent in March, compared with a 0.2 percent decline in the year-ago period. The tally is based on what the industry calls same-store sales, those from stores open at least a year. They are considered the best measure of a retailer's health.

Wal-Mart announced a 6 percent gain in same-store sales, while analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call expected 5.7 percent. Total sales rose 14 percent.

Costco said same-store sales were up 11 percent, surpassing the 8.2 percent projected by analysts. Total sales were up 14 percent.

Limited reported same-store sales were up 15 percent, beating analysts' estimates of an 11.2 percent increase. Total sales rose 13 percent.

Chico's FAS Inc. reported an 18.9 percent same-store gain, compared to analysts' 12.6 percent projection. Total sales were up 50.8 percent.

Nordstrom posted a 15.9 percent gain in same-store sales, well exceeding the 8.1 percent expected by analysts. Total sales increased 19.8 percent.

On Wednesday, teen retailer Hot Topic, Inc., reported a 3.9 percent rise in same-store sales for March. Analysts expected 5.3 percent. Total sales were up 28 percent.

And American Eagle Outfitters, Inc., said same-store sales rose 7.6 percent, a bit below the 7.8 percent analysts expected. Total sales rose 17.6 percent.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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