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March Chain Sales Soar Despite CE Softness

4/08/2010 02:28:07 PM Eastern

New
York - An early Easter and warm weather helped offset
weakness in consumer electronics to deliver strong March sales to discounters.

Among those reporting results, Target said net
retail sales for the five weeks, ended April 3, increased 12.5 percent to $6.2
billion and same-store sales rose 10.3 percent, compared with a 6.3 percent
decline last year.

"March
comparable-store sales exceeded our expectations," said Target chairman, president
and CEO Gregg Steinhafel, although CE had the weakest comps in hardlines due to
brisk sales of DTV converter boxes in 2009.

Target noted that
current-month sales will temper results for the combined March-through April
period, which are projected to show a more moderate 3 percent to 5 percent
increase.

Among the
warehouse clubs, Costco said net sales rose 12 percent last month to $7.1
billion while U.S.
comp sales increased 2 percent, excluding the positive impact of gasoline sales.

Like Target, CE
and majaps were Costco's weakest-performing hardlines category, posting low
single-digit declines. The chain attributed the downturn to weakness in TV,
where both unit and dollar volume fell 20 percent last month.

At BJ's Wholesale
Club, net sales soared 15.7 percent to $1 billion and comps climbed 7.3 percent,
excluding the positive impact of fuel sales. The company included TV and video
games among its monthly laggards, but said overall traffic was up 7 percent
excluding gas.

Looking at the
broader picture, the nation's chain stores together posted "a healthy, albeit
inflated, increase" of 9 percent last month, noted Michael Niemira, chief
economist and research director for the International Council of Shopping
Centers (ICSC). Niemira estimated that the earlier Easter — April 4, 2010, vs. April 12, 2009 — contributed 4 to 5
percentage points of growth, but considered last month's performance "very
strong" even without the benefit of the calendar shift due in part to unseasonably
warm weather.

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