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March sales fall as late Easter, recession impact spending


New York City Retail sales generally fell in March as the recession continues to hamper consumer spending. But similar to February, the declines were more moderate than in previous months. Also, while most retailers posted same-store sales declines, a good number of them topped analysts' estimates, and several retailers even raised their quarterly earnings outlooks. Many retailers cited the late Easter holiday as cutting into the March results.

Wal-Mart Stores said Thursday U.S. same-store sales rose 1.4% in March. The results missed Wall Street expectations, partly because of a shift in the Easter holiday and a stronger dollar. However, the discount retailer is bullish on Easter and said it expected quarterly earnings to be at the high end of its forecast.

Total international sales during the five weeks ended April 3 dropped 14.8% to $8.1 million, hurt by the stronger dollar. Wal-Mart's average ticket was lower in the United States because of a shift in the Easter holiday, but the retailer expects this to boost results in April.

"Based on the initial strength of our sales this week, we expect Easter to drive April sales performance," said Eduardo Castro-Wright, Wal-Mart's vice chairman.

Wal-Mart said same-store sales declined in both Canada and Brazil, but rose in Japan and Mexico. The chain said consumers in China remain cautious in their spending.

Same-store sales rose 0.6% at the company's U.S. namesake stores and 6.2% at its Sam's Club warehouses.

In other discount and warehouse club results:

Target Corp. said Thursday same-store sales fell 6.3% in March, slightly better than Wall Street expectations, partly due to improvement in the discount retailer's business segments.

Total sales for the five weeks ended April 4 fell 2.3% to $5.5 million, from $5.7 million last year.

The company says same-store sales fell 5.3% year-to-date, while total sales have declined 1.3% so far this year.

Target chief executive Gregg Steinhafel said in a statement Thursday that March sales were "modestly better" than planned.

Steinhafel said shoppers are still cautious, but that operating results are improving in its business segments.

Fred's said Thursday its same-store sales grew 1.9% in March, as customer traffic and spending increased.

The company said traffic improved as people shopped for bargains due to the recession, and so did average spending and prescriptions in the pharmacy department.

Total sales decreased 1% to $175.4 million, from $177.7 million. In the last year, Fred's has closed 74 stores and 22 pharmacies, leaving it with 666 stores.

  The TJX Cos. said March same-store sales rose 2%. Analysts expected the Framingham, Mass., retailer to post a decline of 2.1% in same-store sales. TJX said total sales for the five-week period ended April 4 remained flat at $1.7 billion. 

  Costco Wholesale Corp. said March same-store sales fell 5% on weakness in non-food categories and lower gasoline prices.

Total sales for the period fell 3% to $6.39 billion, Costco said. Same-store sales fell 2% in the company's U.S. operations, while they were down 13% internationally.

A calendar shift due to the timing of Easter, which added a day of sales in March 2009, helped the company's total and comparable sales by about 1% to 2%.

BJ's Wholesale Club said Thursday its March sales at stores open at least one year increased 1.7%. Analysts, on average, had expected total same-store sales to rise 2.3%, according to Thomson Reuters.

Excluding gasoline, comparable sales of merchandise decreased 0.1%, while analysts expected sales, excluding gas, to increase 1.3%.

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