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Cold March puts a chill on retail sales

NEW YORK — So much for new spring shorts and T-shirts. As cold weather lingered across most of the country, Americans shopped modestly in March.

According to a preliminary tally of 15 retailers by the International Council of Shopping Centers, revenue in stores open at least a year rose 1.4 percent, or 2.2 percent excluding drugstores. That was below expectations, said Michael Niemira, chief economist at the ICSC.

Revenue in stores open at least one year is a key measure of a retailer's financial health, because it excludes stores that open or close during the year.

Weather was a factor, with March being the coldest in seven years. The comparison with last March was especially tough. Last year saw the warmest March on record, according to weather research firm Planalytics Inc.

Analysts often like to combine March and April to get a clearer picture of shoppers' habits, because of volatile weather patterns that time of year and Easter's movement around the calendar.

Easter tends to help stores that sell groceries and candy but costs clothing sellers a day of sales without spurring much additional spending. Most of the stores that report monthly sales figures are clothing specialists.

Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics, expects April to be stronger as the weather improves and customers respond to strong fashion trends such as colorful jeans and prints. An earlier Easter, which meant one fewer selling day in March if stores are closed or have a low-sales day if they stay open, will also help April results, he said. In addition, shoppers should benefit from tax refunds and falling gas prices.

TJX Cos., which operates TJX and Home Goods stores, said revenue in stores open at least a year fell 2 percent, while analysts expected a 1 percent drop. Warehouse club operator Costco Wholesale's revenue figure rose 4 percent in March, short of expectations for a 5.2 percent rise.

Department store operator Stein Mart said revenue at stores open at least a year dropped 2.8 percent in March, falling short of Wall Street predictions. Gap said the measure fell 1 percent, a smaller drop than the 2.1 percent analysts expected.

Weekly jobless claims plunge

The number of Americans seeking unemployment benefits fell sharply last week to a seasonally adjusted 346,000, signaling that the job market might be stronger than March's weak hiring data suggested. Applications for unemployment aid dropped 42,000 last week, the Labor Department said Thursday. The decline nearly reversed an increase over the previous three weeks. The four-week average, a less volatile measure, rose 3,000 to 358,000.

Cold March puts a chill on retail sales 04/11/13 [Last modified: Thursday, April 11, 2013 10:04pm]
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