Retailers' Business Continues to Pick Up

From Associated Press

The retail industry showed further signs of recovery in April, although cold weather again stymied sales of seasonal merchandise, stores reported Thursday.

Consumers who have gradually increased their spending over the past four months continued to be drawn by lower prices. Discounters such as Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Kmart Corp. and moderately priced apparel retailers such as J. C. Penney Co. were among the strongest performers last month.

But seasonal merchandise was hurt by lower-than-normal spring temperatures and left some retailers with disappointing results. Sears, Roebuck & Co. reported declines in air conditioner and lawn and garden equipment sales. Sears, heavily dependent on such items, reported sales at stores open at least a year fell 2.1% from April, 1991, while overall sales dropped 3.9%.

Apparel sales were boosted by the late arrival of Easter. Since the holiday fell in April this year, many consumers shopped later than in 1991, when Easter fell in March.

Some retailers reported that sales were affected by the disturbances in Los Angeles and other cities last week. Federated Department Stores Inc. said business fell off in the last days of the month because of the violence.

Kmart reported a pickup in sales of expensive items such as home electronics that offset disappointing seasonal business. It said same-store sales rose 5.5%, while overall sales were up 10.9%.

It appears that retail sales, which were depressed by the recession and, before that, the Persian Gulf crisis, hit their bottom in December. However, while business is improving, neither retailers nor analysts expect sales to surge.

Dayton Hudson Corp. said same-store sales were up 3%, while overall sales picked up 11.1%. Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, said same-store sales rose 13%, while overall business was up 26%.

Penney, which was hit hard by the recession, continued to rebound, posting a 14.5% jump in same-store sales, with a 15.6% overall gain.

Penney had struggled while trying to reposition itself as a more upscale retailer just as consumers were in search of lower prices. Now, Penney is doing better because "they're going back to their roots," said Robert Buchanan, an analyst with Alex. Brown & Sons Inc. in Baltimore.

Federated said same-store results were up 0.7%. Overall sales fell 4.8%, the result of store closings during Federated's bankruptcy reorganization.

May Department Stores Co. reported a same-store gain of 5.9% and an 11.2% rise overall. Apparel retailer Gap Inc. said its same-store sales rose 13%, with overall sales rising 30%.

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