Sales accelerated a bit in March for the nation’s major retailers, which said Thursday that they benefited from an earlier Easter and warmer weather.
However, the pickup was a modest one, financial analysts emphasized. And some companies fared much better than others.
Sears, Roebuck & Co., the largest retailer, said its sales for the five weeks ended April 5 edged up 0.7% over the same period a year ago. For February, it had reported a 2% decline.
K mart, the No. 2 chain, said its sales increased 8.2% for its strongest sales comparison in 10 months.
Sales rose 6.6% at third-ranked J. C. Penney and 9.4% at Dayton Hudson, No. 4.
Wal-Mart Stores, No. 5, had a 44% jump in sales, although sales at its stores open more than a year rose 19%.
Carter Hawley Hale Stores of Los Angeles said its March sales were up 4% from a year earlier. The company’s divisions include the Broadway and Neiman-Marcus.
Retail sales are closely watched because the pace of consumer spending is an important factor in the course of the economy. Sluggish sales in recent months have sparked fears that the current expansion is running out of steam.
“It is a modest improvement in the tone of business,” said Monroe Greenstein, a retailing analyst with the investment firm of Bear, Stearns & Co.
However, Greenstein added: “It should have been better than that, considering the fact that Easter fell earlier. These figures show no real strength yet for consumer spending in general merchandise. Consumers remain very cautious.”
Jeffrey Edelman, a retail analyst with Dean Witter Reynolds, said: “This year you had Easter come one week earlier. That helped out sales in the third and fourth week, as well as the warmer weather.”
But in “the fifth week, stores were closed on Easter Sunday. They were open last year on that same day. Consequently, the fifth week reported a sharp decline in sales.”
Each of the retailers’ quarters is made up of two four-week periods and one five-week period. Their fiscal years begin in February.
Department store sales tended to be the strongest, while retailers that sell durable goods had the weakest results, Edelman said.
To get a true reading on spring sales, “you’ve got to lump April and March combined,” Edelman added.
Chicago-based Sears said its March sales totaled $2.51 billion, compared to $2.49 billion in the same period a year ago.
Chairman Edward Brennan said Sears’ sales in appliances, home furnishings and apparel were stronger.
So far this retail fiscal year, Sears said, its sales are down 0.4% to $4.27 billion from $4.29 billion.
K mart, which is based in Troy, Mich., said its sales for the month came to $2.12 billion, compared to $1.96 billion a year ago. The gain was the company’s largest since the 8.4% increase it reported last June. For the year to date, sales rose 5.5% to $3.43 billion from $3.25 billion.
K mart Chairman Bernard Fauber said the arrival of new spring merchandise lines also contributed to the sales improvement.
New York-based Penney said its five-week sales rose to $1.13 billion from $1.06 billion in 1985. For the nine weeks, sales rose 6.9% to $1.87 billion from $1.75 billion.
Dayton Hudson, of Minneapolis, said its sales last month came to $800.5 million, compared to $731.6 million. So far this year, sales have risen 11.4% to $1.34 billion from $1.21 billion.
Dayton Hudson’s results were uneven across its four divisions--Target, Mervyn’s, Dayton Hudson department stores and specialty merchandisers--Chairman Kenneth Macke said.
Wal-Mart, with headquarters in Bentonville, Ark., said its March sales jumped to $854 million from $593 million. For the two months, Wal-Mart’s overall sales rose 43% to $1.47 billion from $1.03 billion.
Sales in March
In millions Year % of dollars 1986 ago change Sears 2,511 2,493 +0.7 K mart 2,115 1,955 +8.2 J.C. Penney 1,131 1,061 +6.6 Federated* 892.0 845.7 +5.5 Dayton Hudson 800.5 731.6 +9.4 Wal-Mart Stores 854.0 593.0 +44.0 Woolworth 585.0 535.0 +9.2 Montgomery Ward 323.8 333.3 -2.8 May Dept. Stores 484.9 436.0 +11.2 R.H. Macy N.A. N.A. N.A. Assoc. Dry Goods 398.1 371.0 +7.3 Carter Hawley Hale 334.0 321.1 +4.0
*Excludes supermarket sales. Excludes foreign sales.
Los Angeles Times