Most top U.S. retail chains reported weaker-than-expected April same-store sales on Thursday, suggesting that Wall Street's hopes for a consumer rebound have gotten ahead of the actual pace of recovery.
Sales at stores open at least a year rose 0.5 percent in April, well short of Wall Street estimates of a 1.7 percent increase. Nearly 70 percent of 28 retailers tracked by Thomson Reuters disappointed, with the biggest misses seen among apparel retailers like Gap Inc and teen chains like Abercrombie & Fitch .
The lackluster results dragged down shares, including warehouse club Costco which fell 2.2 percent and Target Corp which fell 1.3 percent.
Gap shares sank 3.7 percent, while Abercrombie and rival Aeropostale slid 6 percent and 3.7 percent, respectively. The Standard & Poor's Retail Index <.RLX> fell 0.6 percent and Wal-Mart Stores Inc, which does not report monthly sales, fell 0.6 percent.
We know that things probably are not going to get worse, but the consumer is not out there leading us forward, said Stephen Hoch, a marketing professor at Wharton School.
The results came a week after data showed that the U.S. economy expanded at a 3.2 percent annual rate in the first quarter, the fastest pace of consumer spending in three years.
But that translated into mixed results for U.S. businesses, as people are more selective about where they spend, analysts say. In addition, a fresh report on jobless claims showed a slightly smaller-than-expected drop in unemployment filings, suggesting a more gradual recovery.
Nobody has told American consumers that the recession is over although some officials have rosy predictions of growing consumer spending, consumer trend expert Britt Beemer said in a note. We're seeing a lot of people on the edge of financial distress.
EARLY EASTER STEALS APRIL THUNDER
An early Easter prompted many U.S. consumers to move up their spring shopping to March, thereby stealing a good chunk of sales from April. Many industry experts look at the combined two-month results for a better read of the consumer sentiment.
In the final tally, same-store sales rose 4.8 percent in the March-April period, below the 5.4 percent average expected by Wall Street. Some retailers, including Limited and Macy's , also warned that a late Memorial Day could depress May sales while boosting June results.
Still, the April increase marks the eighth consecutive monthly rise after a year of declines during the recession. The International Council of Shopping Centers said same-store sales were heading toward the high end of its 2010 forecast for a 3 percent to 3.5 percent rise.
Discount chain Target posted a 5.9 percent monthly sales drop, far steeper than the 2.3 percent decline predicted by analysts. It said a combined March-April same-store sales rise of 3 percent was better than any month since April 2008.
Costco saw an 11 percent rise in April same-store sales, boosted partly by higher gasoline prices. But the results narrowly missed the analysts' estimate calling for an 11.2 percent rise.
Department store chains Macy's and higher-end Nordstrom were among the few positive surprises, surpassing estimates with increases of 1.1 percent and 7.5 percent, respectively.
On Wednesday, top U.S. drugstore chain Walgreen Co said same-store sales slipped 0.2 percent in April, slightly better than the 0.3 percent decline expected by three analysts. Same-store sales rose 1 percent in March and April combined.
Teen retailers American Eagle, Abercrombie, Hot Topic and Zumiez posted weaker-than-expected same-store sales in the month as many teenagers finished shopping ahead of Easter, or had returned to schools.
(Additional reporting by Brad Dorfman, Ben Klayman, Jessica Wohl, Martinne Geller, Nivedita Bhattacharjee; Editing by Michele Gershberg, Maureen Bavdek, Dave Zimmerman)