By and  on April 22, 2010

Buoyed by positive jobs and home sales data, retail stocks on Thursday continued their recent rise with a 2.1 percent increase.

The S&P Retail Index climbed 10.23 points to 491.96 as the major indices ended the day with gains after morning losses. The retail barometer’s pickup was the third positive session in a row. It closed 23.1 percent above the 399.50 posted on Feb. 12, the day before the index vaulted over the 400 mark, where it has stayed since.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average rebounded more than 100 points in afternoon trading to finish at 11,134.29, up 0.1 percent. The S&P 500 rose 0.2 percent to 1,208.67. Renewed concerns about the Greek debt crisis, stoked by a downgrade from Moody’s Investors Service that left open the possibility of further reductions, pushed down European indices more than 1 percent.

U.S. markets rallied after the National Association of Realtors reported that sales of existing homes rose 6.8 percent last month and the Labor Department said initial jobless claims dropped 24,000 to 456,000 last week.

Shares of Dillard’s Inc. advanced $1.22, or 4.3 percent, to close at $29.41 after Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services raised its corporate credit rating two ticks to “B-plus” from “B-minus” based on the agency’s assessment that the retailer’s “operating performance has recovered moderately due to better inventory management, which has led to less promotional activity and cost cutting. In addition, credit metrics have improved materially as a result of debt repayment and increased profitability.”

Dillard’s established a new 52-week high of $29.54 in intraday trading.

Led by Casual Male Retail Group Inc.’s 7.2 percent advance to $4, retailers registered broad increases, with specialty stores recording the strongest gains. An exception was Zale Corp., which declined 5.9 percent to close at $3.20, the largest slip among the 172 fashion, retail and beauty shares tracked by WWD. The slide came a day after Zale shares advanced 6.9 percent, the third best performance in Wednesday trading. Zale is seeking investment capital to repair its finances, and its stock responded favorably Wednesday to published reports that Golden Gate Capital was considering the acquisition of a minority stake. (For more on stocks, see page 14.)

According to the Labor Department’s Producer Price Index, released Thursday, wholesale prices for U.S.-made apparel were flat in March compared with February and fell 0.2 percent versus a year ago.

Women’s apparel prices declined 0.1 percent in March from a month earlier and dropped 0.4 percent year-over-year. Men’s apparel prices rose 0.2 percent, but declined 0.1 percent compared with March 2009.

Prices for all domestically produced goods and services rose 0.7 percent in March, driven by increases in food and fuel prices.

“There are absolutely no signs of any inflation pressures at the finished goods level,” said Brian Bethune, chief U.S. financial economist for IHS Global Insight.

Prices for core finished goods rose 0.1 percent in March, but they would most likely have declined if there hadn’t been “oddball increases” in a few categories, including some jewelry products, Bethune said.

The PPI for apparel is not a true indicator of industry price fluctuations because the vast majority of clothing sold in the U.S. is imported.

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