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ICSC: Weekly Sales Advance at Weak Pace

Year-on-year gains of 1.5% with promotional pace slower.

Retail sales last week expanded for the third consecutive week but the gains remained nominal.

The International Council of Shopping Centers and Goldman Sachs chain store sales index rose 1.5 percent over the comparable 2013 week and 0.7 percent over the prior week during the seven days ended Saturday. That represented a deceleration from the week ended March 8, when the gains were 2.1 and 1.3 percent, respectively.

ICSC found that stores geared to discretionary spending performed best last week, with department, furniture and non-apparel specialty retailers among the stronger performers. Many stores selling staple goods, including discounters and wholesale clubs, saw business soften.

“The later Easter this year versus last year, as well as the lingering winter weather, is likely paring the consumer’s appetite for seasonal merchandise, but the strengthening in some of the discretionary segment, such as furniture and department stores, is fundamentally positive,” said Michael Niemira, vice president of research and chief economist at ICSC.

The survey also found a slowing of promotional pressures as the SaleTally-ICSC Promotions Index fell for the second consecutive week. “By store size, medium and large retailers led the reduced promotional pace while small retailers were, on average, more promotional for the week,” the ICSC official said.

Hampered by severe weather and uneven demand, the sales index in the past nine weeks has ranged between flat and ahead 2.3 percent while the sequential change has been as low as a 1.9 percent decrease and as strong as 2.5 percent.

Transportation costs have taken a bite out of discretionary spending, ICSC noted, with the price of a gallon of unleaded gasoline up 3.5 cents last week. That represents the sixth consecutive week of higher prices, pushing the cost of a fill-up to its highest level since Sept. 16.