* Analysts see 4.3 pct sales gains for 13 top chains
* TJX and Ross beat, Ross raised profit forecast
* ICSC forecasts May same-store sales up 2-3 pct
* Buckle, Zumiez shares rise as sales top views
By Phil Wahba
May 9 U.S. retail spending continued to grow
modestly in April as bad weather delayed spring shopping in much
of the country and frugal consumers gravitated toward discount
Twelve major U.S. retailers reported a 3.7 percent increase
in April sales at stores open at least a year, according to
Thomson Reuters same-store sales index. That was less than the
4.3 percent increase Wall Street expected.
Wall Street got ahead of itself with upbeat expectations,
said AlixPartners' Managing Director Steve Nevill, noting that
unemployment remained high and consumers were still worried
about their prospects.
"I still don't see us breaking out of this average
performance until something big happens to lift consumer
confidence," Nevill said.
L Brands Inc, which operates Victoria's Secret, said
sales at stores open at least a year, were up 2 percent last
month, but missed analysts' estimates at all of its major
brands, including Bath & Body Works. The stock was down 1.1
Costco Wholesale Corp reported a 4 percent gain,
slightly less than expected, in part because of sharply lower
gas prices. Still, the warehouse club operator said sales of
food and consumer electronics were good. Cost shares fell 0.5
In contrast, so-called off-price chains TJX Cos Inc,
which operates T.J. Maxx and Marshalls, and Ross Stores Inc
both easily beat Wall Street targets, the latest proof
that shoppers remained price conscious despite gradual
improvements in the job market.
Ross raised its first-quarter profit forecast after
reporting a 7 percent gain in same-store sales. Larger rival TJX
Cos said same-stores sales rose 8 percent last month. TJX Cos
shares added 0.6 percent, while Ross was up 0.2 percent.
Because of the timing of Easter, March sales numbers were
artificially low, while April got a boost. Taken together,
retail spending grew about 2 percent, roughly in line with
trends in the last two years, said International Council of
Shopping Centers Chief Economist Michael Niemira.
Spending is not expected to rise much faster than that in
the coming months as consumers wrestle with a variety of
worries, including the U.S. economy, Europe's economic problems,
the debt debate in Washington and employment.
The ICSC expects same-store sales to increase 2 percent to 3
percent this month.
Gap Inc, the last company in the Thomson Reuters
Same-Store Sales Index to report, will release its numbers after
the stock market closes.
The S&P Retail Index was up 0.1 percent at midday.
LOTS OF DISCOUNTING
With the weather cool in much of the country in April, many
shoppers' delayed purchases of spring clothing.
Janney Capital Markets analyst Adrienne Tennant said in a
note this week that retailers were more aggressive in offering
discounts in April, but things eased at the end of the month,
suggesting stores had not over-ordered and making it likely they
would avoid panicked markdowns.
Fred's Inc and Cato Corp each reported
slim sales gains last month.
Retailers that don't report monthly sales posted
disappointing numbers. Ann Inc, the parent of the Ann
Taylor chain, and Wet Seal Inc each recorded declines
in same-store sales for the first quarter.
Last week, drugstore chain Rite Aid Corp said
same-store sales fell 4 percent in April, largely as many
lower-cost generic drugs came to market in the last year. Larger
rival Walgreen Co reported a modest 1.2 percent rise,
hurt by a drop in sales of general merchandise.
Others did manage to buck the trend. Teen retailers The
Buckle Inc and Zumiez Inc reported much
better-than-expected April sales on Thursday, and American
Apparel Inc had a 3 percent gain. Zumiez shares jumped
nearly 4 percent, while Buckle added 1.3 percent.
As previously announced, TJX and Ross will no longer report
monthly sales after April. That will leave 11 U.S. chains
reporting monthly sales, down from a peak of 68 in 2006. In the
years since, big names such as Macy's Inc, Wal-Mart Stores
Inc and Best Buy Co Inc have dropped out of the
same-store sales index.