Reports: March Sales Stronger Than Expected

What with rising gas prices and a late Easter holiday, shoppers had plenty of reasons to stay home in March, yet while retail sales fell from the previous month, they still came in higher than expected.

Kantar Retail says March sales rose 2.5%, compared to 4.4% in the prior month, and 9.2% in March a year ago. The International Council of Shopping Centers, which tracks a slightly different group of stores, says its index registered a 2% gain, on the high side of its expectations. "This gain, in the face of somewhat adverse factors, was encouraging and reflected a solid underlying trend in consumer demand," says Michael P. Niemira, chief economist and director of research for ICSC, in its release.

Warehouse clubs were among the biggest winners, with sales rising 11% at Costco, and 5.3% at BJ's Wholesale Club. Those results, however, included ever-pricier gasoline sales. Without fuel, Costco's sales rose 7%, and BJ's 1.3%.

Higher-end department stores also had a good month: Sales at Saks jumped 11.1%, 8.8% at Neiman Marcus and 5.1% at Nordstrom.



Mid-tier stores struggled. At Macy's, sales rose just 0.9%, but the company says it expects a big hike next month. "March sales exceeded our expectations and demonstrated that our spring fashion assortments are hitting the mark with customers. We generated same-store sales increases at both Macy's and Bloomingdale's, despite a calendar shift in which the pre-Easter period and a planned cosmetics promotion at Macy's fall into April this year versus March last year," it says in its release. It now predicts same-store sales in April are expected to be up by 8 to 9%, translating to a gain of 4 to 4.5% for the combined March-April period. At JCPenney, sales declined 0.3% for the month. At Kohl's, sales fell 6.5%.

At Target, sales dropped 4.5%.

At the Gap, comparable-store results sank 10%. While the company says Japan's tragedy hurt its international results, which fell 9%, its domestic units also saw big drops: Sales fell 9% at Gap North America, 8% at its Banana Republic Store and 12% at its Old Navy division.

ICSC predicts that Easter will power sales increases in April, and it anticipates an increase of between 5 and 6% in next month's results.

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