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April Showers Stall Chain Sales

NewYork – Full-line discount chains blamed bad weather and an early Easter for weak sales in April, although analysts fear the downturn could signal a pullback in consumer spending.

No. 1 retailer Wal-Mart said net sales at its flagship discount stores were essentially flat for the month, edging up 0.4 percent to $16.9 billion, while same store sales fell 4.6 percent. Within CE, the company reported gains in flat panel TVs, digital audio and notebook computers.

At Target, net sales fell 1.8 percent to $3.9 billion and same store sales declined 6.1 percent last month amid fewer transactions, particularly during the first two weeks of April, CEO Bob Ulrich said. CE posted some of the chain’s strongest comp sales, while entertainment category comps were among the weakest.

Among the warehouse clubs, channel leader Costco said net sales rose 12 percent last month to $4.9 billion while comps at U.S. stores rose 6 percent. The company reported particular strength in TVs and digital cameras.

At Wal-Mart’s Sam’s Club division, net sales rose 4 percent to $3.3 billion and same store sales grew 2.5 percent, partly on the strength of CE.

No. 3 warehouse club BJ’s said total April sales grew 1.9 percent to $618.5 million and comp sales increased 1.2 percent amid lighter traffic. The chain reported strength in TVs, but weakness in other electronics.

Elsewhere, Sharper Image reported a 36 percent decline in net sales, to $21.3 million, and an 11-percent drop in comparable store sales.

By some measures, retail sales in April were the weakest in over 30 years, sending the Dow down 141 points on concerns that high gas prices and soft home sales are curtailing consumer spending. But the National Retail Federation described CE and majap stores as one of the few bright spots last month, with sales rising 0.7 percent seasonally adjusted over March and 3.6 percent unadjusted over last year.