Retail stocks slipped 0.7 percent Wednesday as an anecdotal snapshot of the economy showed consumers in some parts of the country cutting back on discretionary spending amid rising gasoline prices.
The S&P Retail Index fell 3.59 points to 501.78—9.1 percent below the sector’s all-time high set May 13, when the recovery seemed more robust than recent data have indicated. The Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 0.2 percent, or 21.87 points, to 12,048.94.
The Talbots Inc. continued to draw attention as its shares fell 3.8 percent, or 10 cents, to $2.53, making for a two-day drop of 42.8 percent. The retailer said Tuesday that its first-quarter comparable-store sales fell 7.7 percent and that the second quarter would “continue to be challenging.”
Over the two days, more than 56 million shares of the company have traded hands, compared with the 68.1 million shares that float publicly.
But to retailers and consumers, the economy doesn’t seem ready for a boost anytime soon.
The Federal Reserve, in its Beige Book report, said the pace of economic activity expanded in late April and May, but that soaring gasoline and raw material prices slowed retail sales growth in some regions as consumers cut back on discretionary spending.
Retail sales, excluding autos, expanded “steadily” in Philadelphia, Cleveland, Minneapolis, Kansas City and Dallas. But sales declined in Richmond and were reported as “stable or decelerating” in New York, Atlanta, Chicago, St. Louis and San Francisco.
“Elevated food and energy prices, as well as unfavorable weather in some parts of the country, were said to be weighing on consumers’ propensity to spend,” the Fed said.
Retailers in Boston said they were trying to pass on raw material price increases wherever they could, citing “steep price increases” in everything from cotton to dairy and meat products.
In New York, one major retail chain reported that prices have been stable during the first half of the year, though it plans to institute “modest price” increases in the second half, largely for cotton apparel.
Retailers in Philadelphia said sales of spring apparel were “held back” by unseasonably cool and rainy weather and higher gasoline prices, which were “deterring shopping trips and constraining consumers’ discretionary buying.”
Sales of apparel and seasonal garden supplies were “particularly strong” in Kansas City, but were soft in Richmond, the Fed said.