A welcome trinity of factors -- perkier job prospects, summer temperatures and more affordable prices -- helped retail sales in June beat expectations.
Same-store sales at shops open at least a year -- a measure that strips out the volatility of openings and closings -- rose 4.1% last month from the same period a year earlier, according to Retail Metrics Inc.
The surge is the largest since sales swelled 5.1% in January. Retailers had struggled through the spring as they dealt with storms and chilly temperatures and "an economic soft patch," said the group's president, Ken Perkins.
June results beat forecasts of a 3.7% boost and also outperformed the 3.8% increase recorded in May and the 0.3% upswing in June 2012, he said.
The cause, according to Perkins: "An improving labor market coupled with falling gas prices during the month, seasonably warmer temperatures that drove summer clearance, rising home prices and generally better macroeconomic conditions."
Discounters did especially well. Fred's saw a 4.5% same-store sales increase last month.
Stein Mart Inc. said sales were up 6.5% due to strength in linens, ladies' casual sportswear and women's boutique goods. Menswear and female special sizes were less impressive.
The retailer, which has 262 stores, said Florida and other gulf states drew high revenue. California suffered, however.
But even the "extreme heat" on the West Coast toward the end of the month couldn't keep club chain Costco from reporting a 6% comparable sales boost. Nor could cannibalization from new stores, according to a report from Sterne Agee analyst Chuck Grom.
Traffic at the company was up 5% last month, which propelled hefty sales in frozen foods and candy.
A separate account of retail sales from Thomson Reuters also showed companies beating Wall Street forecasts. Predictions of a 3.8% sales increase when including drug stores and a 4.8% surge without them proved inaccurate.
Thomson Reuters calculated that the 11 retailers in its roundup enjoyed a 4.2% uptick with drug stores and a 5% rise without.
Los Angeles garment seller American Apparel said its same-store sales swelled 7% in June. But most other clothing retailers were weak, with the category up 1% despite expectations for a 2.3% upswing.
Sales at Limited Brands were flat compared with 7% growth last June. After lower clearance sales, Victoria's Secret slipped 1% after a 11% rise last year, according to RBC Capital Markets analyst Howard Tubin.
Bebe Stores Inc., which does not disclose monthly sales data, said Thursday that its same-store sales for the fourth fiscal quarter tumbled 7.1%. The Brisbane, Calif., women's wear company said traffic declined at its 240 stores.
The brand also offered more promotions throughout the period as it tried to sell off excess inventory.
Retail sales reports will be finalized once Gap Inc. reports its data after the market closes.