An early Easter this year brought consumers out of hiding as U.S. retailers reported that sales bounded up sprightly in March, according to monthly figures reported across the nation yesterday.
Consumer spending in March was driven not only by Easter, but also by the coming of spring, a rite of passage in shopping for lawn chairs, T-shirts and other seasonal goods, which boosted sales at department stores and apparel retailers.
March represented the second consecutive healthy month in retail after an anemic Christmas season, but whether a major upturn is in the offing remains uncertain, analysts said.
"We believe consumer spending will remain robust enough to keep us out of a recession until at least the end of 1996," said
Kenneth M. Gassman Jr. of the Richmond, Va., investment house Davenport & Co.
The Salomon Brothers retail index increased 5.4 percent after a 5.2 percent gain last month. March sales in stores open at least a year increased 5.27 percent, according to the Bloomberg Composite Same-Store Sales Index.
But the results were tempered by this year's unrelenting wintry weather. Among the hardest-hit were big-ticket durable goods and home improvement chains, including Hechinger Co. The Landover-based retailer reported that sales in stores open at least a year, a key economic indicator also called same-store sales, dropped 9 percent in March. Competitor Lowe's Cos. fared little better with an 8 percent decline in same-store sales.
By contrast, several retail giants produced strong gains. Same-store sales increased:
5.1 percent at Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the nation's largest retailer.
6.8 percent at Sears, Roebuck and Co.
8.7 percent at Dayton Hudson Corp.
6.1 percent at Federated Department Stores Inc.
9 percent at May Department Stores Co.
The upward trend even extended to apparel retailers, which have faced months of sluggish sales. Among the beneficiaries were the Limited Inc., where same-store sales jumped 8 percent and the Gap Inc., which reported a 13-percent rise.
Pub Date: 4/12/96