For retailers, June had its ups and downs No clear signal given on economy

July 10, 1992|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

The nation's retailers posted highly variable June sales yesterday, giving no clear signal about the direction of the economy.

Overall, the results appeared to be stronger than those for May, a difficult month for the industry, said Budd Bugatch, research director at Ferris Baker Watts in Baltimore. "I'm not going to say the boom is here, but I think this is more positive," he said.

In some ways, it was a strange month in retailing, one in which "tortoises" such as Hechinger Co. and Caldor outpaced the giant "hare" of the industry, Wal-Mart Stores.

Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer, posted an 8 percent gain in sales at stores that were also open a year ago. That would have been a strong comparable-sales result for most retailers, but coming from Wal-Mart, which typically reports gains in double digits, it was an indicator of the overall weakness of the retail economy.

The most notable loser was Sears, Roebuck and Co., which took a public relations beating last month after charges were raised in California and New Jersey that its automotive shops were charging customers for unnecessary repairs. Sears posted a 2.6 percent decline in comparable-store sales as overall automotive group sales fell about 10 percent -- enough to offset gains in apparel and home office equipment, the company said.

Another large retailer that stumbled in June was The Limited. The Columbus, Ohio-based apparel merchant continued a string weak performances with a 4 percent drop in comparable-store sales.

For other retailers, June was a busy month at the cash registers.

At Landover-based Hechinger Co., which recently lowered prices at its Baltimore-Washington stores, comparable-store sales soared 12 percent and total sales jumped 23 percent compared with June 1991. "That's the best they've done in a long time," Mr. Bugatch said.

Caldor Corp., a Norwalk, Conn.-based discount department store chain, also posted unusually strong results. The company showed an 11.6 percent gain in comparable-store sales, citing ,, strength in apparel and hard goods.

Joppa-based Merry-Go-Round Enterprises, which has staggered through a long string of negative sales comparisons, ended up on the positive side in June. Comparable-store sales were up only 1 percent, but Mr. Bugatch said that could be viewed as a sign that the company has "turned the corner." He noted that the company, whose business began turning down last July, faces easier comparisons ahead.

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