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Home lifts Redbook avg. in Feb.

Providing a big finish to a stronger-than-expected month for the nation's big retailers, same-store sales jumped up by 4.3 percent during the fourth week of February, with home goods once again providing a big lift, according to the Redbook Retail Sales Average.

Given the unexpected kick provided in the closing days of February, retail sales for all of last month climbed by 4.0 percent, substantially ahead of a smaller anticipated gain of 3.3 percent.

Even department stores, with their lackluster results over the past 18 months, managed to beat their target for the month, their sales slipping just 0.7 percent, compared with a forecast drop of 1.3 percent. Predictably and routinely, the nation's low-price discounters sailed past their target for the month as consumers continued to seek out bargains. Discount sales advanced by 7.1 percent for all of February vs. a target of 6.3 percent.

"Retailers said sales in the final week held up better than expected, and helped most to end the month above plan," said Redbook analyst Catlin Levis. "February turned out to be a relatively good month for most retailers, although its importance remains circumscribed, since it contributes only a small proportion of annual sales."

Breaking results out by channel, Levis said, "Our department store segment volume picked up slightly. Elsewhere, warm weather continued to drive sales of spring apparel. Business in home-related goods, both soft lines and consumer durables, maintained strength in recent weeks and months, supported by activity in residential housing markets. We expect this paradigm to continue as long as housing markets, particularly sales of existing homes, remain strong."

Looking ahead, Levis said, "Over the next two months, sales gains will be affected by the floating Easter holiday, which this year falls in the fifth week of March, compared to the second week of April last year. This will likely benefit March and hurt April." Given the impact of the shift in the Easter holiday, Levis said her preliminary target for March is an increase in same-store sales of 4.6 percent over last year's levels.

Redbook Retail Sales Average
Fourth week of February

Week ended 2/9 2/16 2/23 3/2 Month Target
*Including chain stores and traditional department stores.
Source: Redbook Retail Sales Average, a unit of Instinet, a Reuters company.
Department Stores* -0.7 -0.9 -1.2 -0.1 -0.7 -1.3
Discounters 7.5 7.1 6.7 7.1 7.1 6.3
Redbook Average 4.2 3.9 3.5 4.3 4.0 3.3


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