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Published: Friday, 5/7/2010

Seasonal shoppers spring into action to aid retailers


NEW YORK - Americans gave retailers a respectable spring selling season, and a slew of stores raised their earnings outlooks.

Though April shopping fell off from March's pace, the full spring picture shows consumers more willing to buy higher-priced merchandise and pay full price. Those are good signs for the economy, but the path to recovery is expected to be rocky.

Overall revenue at stores open at least a year rose 0.8 percent in April, compared with a 2.7 percent drop a year ago, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers Index of 30 retailers. In March, a 9 percent gain was the largest rise since March, 1999.

For both March and April, the index rose 4.9 percent, well above the average pace of 4.1 percent since January.

As merchants released April figures yesterday, wholesale club operators including Costco Wholesale Corp. plus luxury retailers such as Nordstrom Inc. were the biggest winners. Limited Brands Inc. and Macy's Inc. also had solid gains. Teen merchants including American Eagle Outfitters Inc. and Abercrombie & Fitch Co. struggled with declines.

The figures are based on revenue at stores open at least a year and are considered a key indicator of a retailer's health. Wal-Mart Stores Inc. stopped reporting monthly results last year.

After a spending spree in March, "April is the pause that refreshes," said Todd Slater, Lazard Capital Markets analyst. "The consumer is out of hibernation."

Analysts had expected an April slowdown because an early Easter had pumped up sales in March by as much as 5 percentage points. Still, many retailers missing Wall Street estimates, according to Thomson Reuters.

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