Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Tuesday Retail & Consumer Round-Up

Despite another week of unseasonably cold temperatures across much of the U.S., shoppers stepped up their spending in the week leading up to Easter. However, the frosty start to spring, especially compared to record-warm temperatures last March, means we will most likely start to see steep markdowns for apparel and seasonal merchandise.

Last year, March was the warmest on record in more than 100 years according to Evan Gold, senior vice president of client services at Planalytics. But this year, he said "March is trending the coldest since 1996 in the U.S. It's also the snowiest March since 2002," He noted that "demand for shorts fell 12 percent in the fourth week of March versus a year ago and 9 percent for sandals. Interest in lawn and garden items fell 21 percent, delaying the most lucrative season for home improvement stores."

The International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC) reported that chain store sales rose 1.9% for the week ending Mar 30th compared to the year-ago period, while sales soared 4.7% over the prior week, which was the best performance in over 17 years. However, that was more a reflection over the timing of Easter and will be offset by a sharp fall next week.

According to the ICSC‐GS consumer tracking survey, business was very strong at department stores and wholesale clubs and strong at dollar, electronics, office and furniture stores, but weaker at apparel, drug and discount stores, and especially grocery stores.
"Despite the abnormally cold weather throughout the eastern United States—which certainly negatively affected the strength of Easter apparel demand—Easter sales combined with some pent-up demand from the prior week drove sales up sharply on a week-over-week basis," said Michael Niemira, ICSC vice president of research and chief economist. "But still, that lingering cold bout in the middle of the country east, has pared the strength of sales for March and as such ICSC Research has lowered it lower bound forecast for the month,"
Weather Trends International (WTI) noted that the average nationwide temperature during this past week was 13.4°F colder than last year and 3.3°F below its long-term average. WTI observed "continued unfavorable conditions for seasonal spring categories across the eastern two‐thirds of the nation,"

ShopperTrak, which won't report weekly sales until later today, said they would normally expect a large weekly pickup since the Saturday before Easter is typically one of the largest shopping days of the year outside the Christmas shopping season. However, the firm noted that "cool weather conditions will most likely dampen Easter clothing and spring merchandise purchases," and business will be softer than usual until spring finally arrives.

Redbook Research said same-store sales rose 3.5% in the final week of March, the strongest gain since Thanksgiving and following a 2.6% rise the prior week. For the month, sales were up 3.0% over the prior year and 0.8% relative to February.
Easter related purchases drove demand for boys and girls apparel, footwear and Easter seasonal goods. In some regions, cooler weather shifted shopper's attention away from apparel and seasonal merchandise. Retailers typically prefer a later Easter holiday since temperatures are more likely to be higher making for a smooth transition into the core of the spring season; this year's Easter falls two weeks earlier than last year. Some retailers were disappointed that the earlier pre-Easter momentum had not been sustained through the holiday weekend itself.
The Energy Information Administration (EIA) reported that gas prices fell for the fifth consecutive week to $3.645 for the week ending 4/1, down 3.5 cents from the prior week and 13.9 cents from the February peak - prices at the pump are 7.5% below levels a year ago.

Contrary to a sharp downturn in the Conference Board Consumer Confidence Index earlier in the week, the Reuters/University of Michigan Index of Consumer Sentiment improved in March on an improving job market and rising home prices.
Surveys of Consumers chief economist, Richard Curtin, said "Although confidence dipped in early March, since the middle of the month consumers have expressed improved prospects for economic growth. Two factors were responsible for the gains: consumers discounted the administration’s warning about economic catastrophe following the cuts in federal spending, and consumers have renewed their expectations that job gains will accelerate in the months ahead. This is not the first time that optimism increased following the Great Recession, but the recent gains stand a better chance to be sustained and ultimately lead to a lower unemployment rate and support consumer spending increases in the year ahead.

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