After a strong spending pace the first three months of the year, consumers retrenched a bit in April, leaving many retailers with modest sales gains for the month. Cool weather, particularly in the Northeast, hurt results at many stores.
Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Limited Brands, TJX Cos. and Talbots Inc. were among the retailers reporting disappointing sales Thursday.
"It was winterlike weather in the Northeast," said Michael P. Niemira, chief economist at The International Council of Shopping Centers.
Niemira's preliminary sales tally for 58 retailers was up 5.4 percent, about in line with his projections. The International Council of Shopping Centers-UBS tally is based on what the industry calls same-store sales, or sales at stores opened at least a year; those sales are considered the best indicator of a retailer's health.
A fairly early Easter prompted many consumers to do their shopping in March, depressing last month's business by about 1.5 percentage points, Niemira said.
Tax refunds and low interest rates, which have driven an increase in mortgage refinancing, have given consumers extra cash to spend, helping retailers turn in an average same-store sales gain of 6.5 percent from January through March. Niemira expects to see that pace slow down in the second half, as those factors begin to wane.
Wal-Mart announced a gain of 4.4 percent in April, slightly below the 4.5 percent estimate of Wall Street analysts surveyed by Thomson First Call. Wal-Mart had recorded a 6 percent gain in March; total sales for April were up 11.7 percent.
Costco Wholesale Corp. reported a 10 percent increase in same-store sales, a bit below the 9.8 percent Wall Street estimate. Total sales rose 13 percent.
TJX Cos. had a 5 percent increase, which was below the 5.7 percent Wall Street expected. Total sales were up 14 percent.
J.C. Penney Co. Inc. reported same-store sales at its department store business was up 5.3 percent, higher than the 5 percent forecast. Total sales were up 4.4 percent.
Federated Department Stores Inc. reported a 5.4 percent increase in same-store sales, above the 5 percent Wall Street estimated. Total sales were up 5.5 percent.
Dillard's Inc. announced a 1 percent gain in both same-store sales and total sales; analysts expected a 0.1 percent gain.
Limited Brands reported a 2 percent increase in same-store sales for April, below the 4.8 percent forecast. Total sales rose 1 percent.
Talbots had a 0.3 percent gain in same-store sales; Wall Street expected 2.5 percent. The clothing retailer's total sales rose 6 percent.
On Wednesday, teen retailer Hot Topic Inc. reported that same-store sales were up 0.7 percent, below the 3.4 percent forecast. Total sales were up 22 percent.
Selected same-store sales for April for other leading retailers:
- Abercrombie & Fitch, same-store sales were unchanged; total sales rose 19 percent.
- Neiman Marcus Group Inc., same-store sales increased 14 percent; total sales were up 14 percent.
- Nordstrom Inc., same-store sales rose 10 percent; total sales rose 12.4 percent.
- Pacific Sunwear of California Inc., same-store sales gained 11.4 percent; total sales were up 21.8 percent.