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Retail sales remain cool in March

Retail sales continued to cool off during the fourth week of March, and same-store sales disappointed for a second week in a row, falling well below plan and losing steam after a strong start to the month.

With the Easter holiday sales something of a letdown, same-store sales picked up by 3.7 percent during the fourth week of retail March after a 5.1 percent gain the prior week and a hefty 5.9 percent increase during the second week of the month, according to the widely watched Redbook Retail Sales Average.

For the four weeks month-to-date, same-store sales came in 4.9 percent above year-ago levels, falling beneath an expected increase of 5.6 percent. So far during March, sales are 1.1 percent beneath February levels, worse than the anticipated 0.4 percent decline, said Redbook analyst Catlin Levis.

"The week's performance was seen as disappointing in light of an expected surge in sales into the Easter weekend," said Levis. "The softness was chiefly due to winter storms and unseasonably cool weather. Some retailers indicated that they will fall slightly short of their March targets. Others were disappointed that the earlier pre-Easter momentum had not been sustained through the holiday weekend itself."

Cooler weather and the calendar shift may have been a double-whammy, and Levis observed. "Retailers prefer a late Easter holiday season since temperatures are more likely to be higher making for a smooth transition into the core of the spring season, while this year's Easter falls two weeks earlier than last year. With one week remaining, we do not expect much improvement in performance. Regionally, the northeast and mid-Atlantic were said to be the most active business environments in the country."

Redbook Retail Sales Average
Fourth week of March

Week ended 3/9 3/16 3/23 3/30 4/6 Month Target
*Including chain stores and traditional department stores.
Source: Redbook Retail Sales Average, a unit of Instinet, a Reuters company.
Department Stores* 0.9 -0.1 -0.7 -1.2 -0.3 0.9
Discounters 7.3 9.8 8.8 7.0 8.2 8.7
Redbook Average 4.7 5.9 5.1 3.7 4.9 5.6


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