NEW YORK — The International Council of Shopping Centers reported Tuesday that April same-store sales are poised to show the biggest year-over-year gain in two years — despite recently intensified worries over higher gas prices.
ICSC chief economist and director of research Michael P. Niemira, predicted in a report that April comparable-store sales should rise between 6 and 6.5 percent. That would be the highest increase since the ICSC reported in March 2004 an average monthly comp increase of 7 percent. Most major retailers will report comps on Thursday.
“Like the Energizer Bunny, the consumer continues to keep on spending despite rising concerns on the energy front,” Niemira said.
Based on supply concerns, the per-barrel price of crude oil has swelled to around $74 from about $67 one month ago, while prices at the gas pump recently went over $4 a gallon in some areas of the U.S. The average price at the pump is about $3 a gallon. And yet, consumers keep finding the ability to dole out discretionary income on apparel.
Niemira said warmer weather was a factor for the expected boost in April comps. According to weather forecasting firm Planalytics, it was the warmest April in 58 years. “The positive momentum in weather-driven demand for spring merchandise that began in early March peaked during the Easter holiday week resulting in an almost ideal spring buying environment,” Planalytics said in a Monday press release.
In March, comps rose a weaker-than-expected 1.9 percent. Sales were hurt, analysts said, by the April 16 Easter holiday, which fell three weeks later than last year. Analysts expect that a shift of spending occurred out of March and into April because of the later holiday. Last year saw the reverse effect when comps in March were stronger than in April because Easter fell on March 27.
In terms of winners and losers for April sales, analysts think specialty retailers likely benefited from core customers shopping for spring break vacation apparel. Among those, Stifel Nicolaus analyst Richard Jaffe expects that American Eagle Outfitters Inc. will see April comps rise 6 to 8 percent, which would be on top of a 20 percent comp increase last year. The consensus estimate is for a 9.6 percent increase.
“Strong demand for the [AE] brand continued into April with the company’s first summer floorset, which was set April 18. Favorable customer response to trend-right merchandise and the benefit of the Easter shift will likely drive April comps,” Jaffe wrote in a Monday research report.