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June slumps, but NRF still predicts strong 2004

NEW YORK — With sales of seasonal merchandise choked off by unusually cool and rainy weather across much of the country, same-store retail sales were well beneath plan during the fourth week of June, rising 3.2 percent, sliding from a 4.7 percent increase the prior week, the Johnson Redbook Index reported.

Redbook Analyst Catlin Levis said, "More companies conceded they were behind plan month-to-date, and unlikely to catch up in the time remaining. Some were scaling back on their June targets."

Levis said, "The lull in seasonal sales has made for a more balanced sales mix, with discounters reporting more emphasis on household basics and consumables and less of summer apparel and other soft goods."

The National Retail Federation reported that sales in the GAFS category (general merchandise stores, clothing and clothing accessories stores, furniture and home furnishings stores, electronics and appliances stores, and sporting goods, hobby and book and music stores) were 5.9 percent over last year for the full month — but were flat compared to May.

Rosalind Wells, the organization’s chief economist, pointed to higher gas prices and unseasonable weather as the culprits. Sales at furniture and home furnishings stores rose 1.1 percent adjusted over May and 4.7 percent unadjusted over last year, she said.

Nonetheless, the NRF said that strong sales gains during the first five months of the year had prompted it to revise upward its 2004 forecast for GAFS sales. The retail organization now expects 2004 to ring up a 6 percent gain. NRF originally forecast a 5 percent gain. Last year, GAFS increased 3.9 percent.

"Rising employment is lifting wage and salary income, which will in turn increase total consumer income," said Wells. "Strengthening income is helping to keep consumers whole and is negating some effects of higher gasoline and food prices.

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