Retail sales dipped 2.1% in March

April 10, 2009|By Los Angeles Times

The worst may be over for the nation's retailers after months of distress. But experts say that merchants will still be stuck in neutral for several months.

Retail sales at major chain stores in March fell 2.1 percent compared with the corresponding period in 2008, the International Council of Shopping Centers said Thursday.

The majority of the 33 chains surveyed - including Macy's Inc., Saks Inc. and Costco Wholesale Corp. - reported sales declines, with several apparel and upscale retailers again posting double-digit drops. Even discount giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. fell short of expectations.

"I think where we are is kind of treading water," said Michael Niemira, chief economist for the shopping council. "We've hit bottom, I think, in terms of the weakest point growth rate-wise."

Upscale retailers were among the worst performers. Saks reported that sales fell 23.6 percent and Nordstrom Inc. posted a 13.5 percent decline.

If the data were adjusted to compensate for the calendar shift of Easter to April and one fewer Saturday than March 2008, total sales would be about 3 percentage points higher, Niemira said. He said that even as they reported negative sales figures, several retailers improved their April outlooks.

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