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Early Easter, chilly weather keep March retail sales growth slow

April 11, 2013|By Tiffany Hsu
  • Retail sales grew in March, but not as much as they had the year before.
Retail sales grew in March, but not as much as they had the year before. (Chris Keane / Associated…)

Consumers shopping during a chilly March gave retail sales for the month a half-hearted push, with spending weighed down by the bitter weather, sequestration worries, ongoing economic weakness and an earlier Easter that shaved off a full selling day.

“The deck was stacked against both retailers and consumers alike,” said Ken Perkins, who puts out a set of sales data through Retail Metrics Inc., in a statement.

Sales at stores open at least a year rose 1.5% in March, in line with expectations but much more muted than the 3.9% bloom during the same month in 2012, according to Perkins.

But given the circumstances, such as wintry weather and continued adjustment to higher payroll taxes, the numbers “surely could have been worse,” Perkins said.

Retailers probably got a boost from rising home and stock prices, he said. And more affordable fuel at the pump coupled with a rosier employment outlook didn’t hurt.

Consumer spending accounts for a large majority of economic activity in the country. But the same-store sales data released Thursday doesn’t offer a complete picture of industry performance.

San Francisco-based Gap Inc. has yet to report its data. And even when it does, it will join an increasingly anemic list of companies that publicly announce monthly sales figures.

Many, including beleaguered J.C. Penney Co., only reveal quarterly statistics. Some analysts say Friday’s retail sales report from the Commerce Department will offer a more extensive look at how the industry fared in March.

Another retail sales gauge came from Thomson Reuters, which said the measure -- sans Gap -- got a 1.4% bump last month. But the boost fell below Wall Street’s 1.8% predictions and lagged the 2.9% surge recorded last March.

Brands such as Ross, which according to RBC Capital Markets analyst Howard Tubin “skews to the sunbelt region of the country,” evaded the low temperatures on the East.

The discounter’s same store sales were up 2% in March due to strength in its juniors and accessories department and demand from the West Coast. Its positive performance, however, was less inspiring than the 10% upswing reported in March 2012.

The same trends held at Limited Brands Inc., which owns names such as Victoria’s Secret and Bath & Body Works and saw sales go up 3%. But Tubin, in a note to clients, wrote that “new and updated product continues to drive the business and this is a trend we believe will continue.”

The company said it expects a similar sales increase in April.


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