The nation's major retailers, which had braced themselves for a tough April selling period, Thursday reported mixed and generally disappointing sales gains for the month from a year ago. However, they ended their fiscal first quarters with gains from last year that outpaced the April showing.
The April results ranged from a decline in sales for J. C. Penney to double-digit increases for several retailers such as Carter Hawley Hale Stores and Wal-Mart.
Sears, Roebuck & Co., the nation's largest retailer, reported flat sales.
The year-to-year sales, however, were not entirely comparable because of a change in the calendar. This year Easter occurred earlier and helped boost March sales. Last year, Easter fell in late April.
Retailers said that taking the March and April figures together indicates a stronger sales picture and is more accurate than looking at April alone.
"The bulk of the shortfall is a function of the change of the calendar. Sales are not as soft as they appear," said Jeffrey Edelman, a retail analyst with Dean Witter Reynolds.
He said continued high consumer debt levels, more modest gains in personal income and a "somewhat more skeptical outlook for the economy all are impacting retail sales."
Most retailers, which operate on a fiscal year that begins in February, will not report their first-quarter profits for several weeks.
Sears, troubled by a sharp slowdown in sales of durable goods, said sales overall for the 13 weeks ended May 4 were up only 1.7%.
K mart's total sales, which this year included results of acquisitions made late last year, rose 12.9% in April. Excluding results of those acquisitions, K mart's sales on a comparable-store basis--which would include only those stores that have been open at least 12 months--rose 4.6%. Total first-quarter sales were up 15.8%, but sales on a comparable-store basis were up only 6.6%.
Penney's April sales fell 3.8% from a year ago but advanced 2.6% for the first quarter. Montgomery Ward, which Mobil this week announced that it intends to divest, had a slight dip in April sales, but sales for the first three months rose 1.6%. F. W. Woolworth reported that U.S. sales rose 4.4% from a year ago, while first-quarter results were up 9.1%.
April sales for Carter Hawley, the Los Angeles-based parent of Neiman-Marcus, the Broadway and Bergdorf Goodman, rose 14%, with sales on a comparable-store basis up 12.5%. First-quarter sales were up 12.1%; 10.5% on a comparable-store basis. Philip M. Hawley, chairman and chief executive, said sales were helped by "moving three major spring sale events that were held during March in 1984 to April of this year."
Dayton-Hudson, parent of Mervyn's and Target, said that April sales were up 13.5%.
Major Retailers' Sales in April
In millions Year % of dollars 1985 ago change Sears 1,720 1,720 unch. K mart 1,730 1,530 +12.9 J. C. Penney 838 871 -3.8 Wal-Mart Stores 628 466 +35.0 Federated* 569 552 +3.0 Dayton-Hudson 557 491 +13.5 Woolworth 438 442 -0.8 Montgomery Ward 413 413 unch. May Dept. Stores 355 340 +4.6 Assoc. Dry Goods 301 284 +6.1 R. H. Macy 285 288 -1.2 Carter Hawley Hale 285 250 +14.0
*Excludes supermarket sales