By and  on April 12, 2010

Strong March same-store results propelled retail stocks higher again on Friday, lifting the S&P Retail Index 3.7 percent last week and 13.9 percent for the year-to-date.

After their release on Thursday, the best monthly store sales numbers in a decade helped elevate the index 0.4 percent on Friday to 468.26, its high-water mark for the past 52 weeks. Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Average briefly passed 11,000, as it did four out of five days last week, but failed to close at or above it, ending the week at 10,997.35. The Dow was up 0.6 percent for both the day and the week and has advanced 5.5 percent since Jan. 1. It last closed above 11,000 on Sept. 26, 2008, just after the onset of the financial meltdown.

Earlier on Friday, Moody’s Investors Service changed its industry sector outlook for U.S. retailers to “positive” from “stable” based on its belief that credit conditions for the industry will “materially improve” over the next 12 to 18 months.

Margaret Taylor, Moody’s senior credit officer, said comparable-store sales growth is expected to moderate from the high level in March, which was helped by the early timing of Easter and some of the weakest year-ago comparisons on record. “But we do expect growth,” she added.

Consumers have become “comfortable with the lukewarm economic environment,” Taylor noted.

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