The prospect of warmer weather apparently put consumers in a buying mood last month, with most of the nation's biggest general retailers reporting strong April sales results on Thursday.
"Most retailers met or exceeded their plan, and the quality of sales was good," said Joanne Legomsky, a retail industry analyst with Standard & Poor's Corp.
Retailers had a mixed performance in March, in part because of the lateness of the Easter weekend, and analysts were waiting for April's figures to get a clearer picture of the stores' performances.
"Combined, the two months were reasonably moderate, in line with retailers' budgets," said Jeffrey Edelman, an analyst with Drexel Burnham Lambert.
Analysts said sales of higher-margin summer apparel items were the biggest factor behind the April sales. Sears, Roebuck, the only major retailer to report weak sales growth, said its strongest results came from apparel.
Retail figures have taken on added importance recently, because consumer spending, which accounts for about two-thirds of the gross national product, is considered a critical barometer of economic performance.
MAJOR RETAILERS' SALES IN APRIL
In millions Year % of dollars 1987 ago change Sears 2,184 2,142 +2.0 Kmart 1,958 1,749 +11.9 J.C. Penney 972.0 903.0 +7.6 May Dept. Stores 785.8 680.2 + 15.5 Federated* 631.5 583.3 +8.3 Dayton Hudson 705.3 574.2 +22.8 Wal-Mart Stores 1,201 874.0 +37.0 Woolworth 332.0 276.0 +20.3 Montgomery Ward 326.1 285.7 + 14.2 Carter Hawley Hale 274.8 260.7 + 5.4
* Excludes supermarket sales.
Excludes foreign sales.