Mixed message seen in retail comps

Top-line retail same-store sales held steady with a 5.7% gain in May, but showed the effects of plans by shoppers to curb spending, according to Kantar Retail.

The sales-weighted composite for the 26 retailers reporting -- most of them apparel retailers -- was up slightly from the 5.4% gain for the combined March–April period, which eliminates the impact of the Easter calendar shift. The result was down from April’s 8.7% same-store sales gain, which was pumped up by a late Easter. The result was better than the 2.7% gain in May 2010.

The results do not include Walgreens, which reports Friday. The calculations also no longer include Walmart, which stopped reporting monthly results in April 2009. 

Apparel stores took the brunt of weaker spending plans; they significantly lagged the overall results. The results were led by the Food, Drug and Mass retailers -- particularly Costco and BJ’s, which benefited from higher fuel prices. Department stores held up well, particularly upscale department stores, which benefit from upper-income households less affected by rising prices.

“Spring storms also affected the retail numbers, but there is little doubt that the strongest headwinds slowing sales are from higher prices for food and especially fuel,” said Frank Badillo, senior economist.  “Shoppers are stepping up their response as inflation persists, and discretionary purchases from apparel to homegoods are most susceptible in the months ahead.”

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