Retail sales warm up in May amid good weather

Los Angeles TimesJune 6, 2013 

Retail sales in May had their best month since January, as warmer weather and a stock market rally drew out shoppers who had spent March and April cooped up indoors.

Same-store sales across the board rose an estimated 3.9 percent, slightly beating expectations for a 3.7 percent boost, according to a measure from Thomson Reuters. In an attempt to tamp down volatility, the data only factors in revenue at locations that have been open at least a year.

The gauge outperformed April’s 2.2 percent upswing as well as the 0.5 percent increase from May 2012. Stripping out the effects of drug stores, last month’s retail sales were up 4.6 percent.

For much of the country, May was the first period of the year that truly felt like spring. Bitter temperatures earlier in the year had delayed seasonal spending on lighter clothes and home improvement products.

But consumers last month were also cheered by what analyst Ken Perkins called a “modestly better economic backdrop.”

The stock market initially surged. Home prices appear to be on an upswing. Consumer confidence reached pre-recession levels, according to the University of Michigan.

Some worrisome trends, however, kept retail sales from booming.

Gas prices increased last month in the first rise since February, frustrating many motorists at the start of the summer traveling season.

Private-sector job growth ticked up slightly in May, adding 135,000 positions but still falling far short of expectations, according to payroll processing firm ADP this week. Still, consumers loosened their retail spending, said Perkins, who calculates a separate retail sales roundup via Retail Metrics Inc. By his count, sales increased 3.5 percent last month.

American Apparel led the pack with a 10 percent swell. Costco enjoyed a 5 percent upturn.

L Brands, however, slightly missed analyst predictions with a 3 percent expansion, compared to 6 percent growth a year earlier.

The company’s Victoria’s Secret subsidiary turned in a 4 percent same-store sales lift, driven by strength in its Pink collection and interest in its beauty offerings for Mother’s Day, according to RBC Capital Markets analyst Howard Tubin.

The overall teen category also lagged 2012 numbers, reporting a 3 percent increase compared to last year’s 5.3 percent rise, according to Thomson Reuters.

Wall Street expects a 3.7 percent swell from Gap, which will release its data after the market closes.

Lately, though, more analysts are waiting for the Commerce Department’s report on retail sales to get a fuller sense of the industry’s health. The government’s next report comes out on June 13.

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