Retail sales, which aren’t adjusted for inflation, include purchases at service stations. Regular fuel jumped to $3.74 a gallon on April 7, the highest since September 2008, according to AAA, the nation’s biggest motoring organization.
Industry reports last week showed stores fared better than forecast. Retailers’ same-store sales rose 2.2 percent from March 2010, while the average projection was for a 0.5 percent drop, according to Retail Metrics Inc. Chains weathered a later Easter. In 2010, the holiday had pulled sales into March when it occurred on April 4, 20 days earlier than this year.
Cincinnati-based Macy’s, the second-largest U.S. department-store chain, reported an increase in sales, while analysts projected a decline. Luxury retailers Saks, Nordstrom Inc. and Neiman Marcus Group Inc. also topped estimates.
Macy’s Inc. and Saks Inc. are among retailers helped by a declining jobless rate and this year’s cut in payroll taxes. At the same time, bigger fuel and grocery bills are squeezing household budgets and eroding confidence, underscoring forecasts consumer spending cooled in the first quarter.
“Job growth is strengthening, which will be the main driver of spending,” said Sal Guatieri, a senior economist at BMO Capital Markets in Toronto. Nonetheless, “we’ve got higher fuel and food costs, and house prices are still falling.”
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