US shoppers continued to step up their spending during January, shrugging off extreme winter weather, higher fuel prices and continuing high unemployment levels.
Monthly sales data from leading US retailers released on Thursday showed stronger-than-expected gains, with the Retail Metrics’ index of comparable sales growth up 4.4 per cent against the same quarter a year earlier.
Ken Perkins, head of Retail Metrics, said that “with signs the economy may be turning a corner here, retailers carried some of holiday 2010’s sales’ momentum into the new year”. But he warned that “retailers and consumers are still facing some headwinds from a languishing housing market, as well as 9.4 per cent unemployment”.
Mike Niemira, chief economist at the International Council of Shopping Centers, said the sales gain was “encouraging ... and suggests relatively healthy underlying consumer demand”.
The increasingly buoyant consumer mood was also reflected by SpendingPulse, the monthly survey from MasterCard Advisors, which estimated that clothing sales rose 6.2 per cent during January against a year ago.
SpendingPulse, which bases its estimates on MasterCard card spending and estimates of other forms of payment, said luxury spending rose 6.1 per cent, and online sales rose 12 per cent.
Store chains reporting better-than-expected numbers included Limited Brands, owner of the Victoria’s Secret lingerie chain, which saw sales at stores open at least a year increase by 24 per cent.
Same-store sales at Victoria’s Secret rose 35 per cent.
Gap, the largest US speciality clothing retailer, also reported a better-than-expected 1 per cent increase in comparable sales against the same period a year ago.
Macy’s, the largest US department store chain by sales, reported a 2.3 per cent increase in comparable sales, although Terry Lundgren, chief executive, said sales have been “restrained by the series of snowstorms that caused widespread store closures along the east coast and in the south-east”.
Its online sales were up 27 per cent.
JC Penney and Kohl’s, the mid-price department stores, reported sales below Wall Street’s expectations, with JC Penney down 1.2 per cent and Kohl’s up 1.4 per cent.
Target, the mass discounter, said its comparable sales increase of 1.7 per cent was below its expectations, citing weakness in the north-east and south, regions affected by the bad weather.
Costco, the warehouse club, said its same-store sales in the US, excluding petrol sales, rose 4 per cent.
Walmart, the largest US retailer, does not report monthly sales data.