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VOL. 125 | NO. 88 | Thursday, May 6, 2010

Retail Data Show Consumers ‘Took a Breather’ in April

ANNE D'INNOCENZIO | AP Retail Writer

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Consumers bought less clothing and footwear in April than they did in the same month last year but opened their wallets for electronics, major appliances and status goods, purchase data released Wednesday show.

The month’s rainy weather contributed to mixed results, including a sharp increase in online sales, according to the latest numbers from MasterCard Advisors’ SpendingPulse.

It was the ninth-straight month that online sales rose compared with a year earlier.

The figures, which include transactions in all forms including cash, signal that spending is recovering but remained sensitive in April to one-time factors.

Another factor dampening April’s sales was a drop in tourism resulting from travel restrictions after Iceland’s volcanic eruption, said Michael McNamara, vice president of research and analysis for SpendingPulse. He said spending is stabilizing and there wasn’t any broad-based heavy discounting.

“(April) was lumpy,” said McNamara, adding that it was “OK” combined with March.

Because an early Easter – like this year’s on April 4 – can boost March’s results and depress April’s, analysts combine the two months when trying to gauge consumer behavior. April figures benefited from relatively easy comparisons to April 2009, when consumers also cut their spending.

Consumers’ confidence in the economy rose in April 2010, but the Conference Board business group’s index remains below the level that’s considered healthy. And unemployment remained high.

Here are SpendingPulse’s figures comparing sales April 4 through May 1 with a year earlier, by product category.

  • Clothing: Sales fell 3.9 percent from April 2009, and sales that month were 8.2 percent below April 2008.
  • Footwear: Sales in this more resilient category fell 1.7 percent.
  • Luxury: Excluding jewelry, sales rose 15.5 percent from April 2009, when they dropped 18.1 percent from the year before.
  • Appliances: Enjoying increases since September 2009, this category rose 3 percent for April.
  • Electronics: Sales rose 9.7 percent from a year earlier, helped in part by product launches, including Apple Inc.’s iPad tablet computer on April 3.

Online sales soared 15.6 percent.

The data came a day before selected major retailers will report on sales at their stores that have been open at least a year, considered a key indicator because it excludes results from stores that open or close during the year.

Analysts surveyed by Thomson Reuters predict a 1.6 percent increase for April, following a 9.1 percent gain in March. The estimate for March and April combined is 5.4 percent. That would be the eighth straight increase.

Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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RECORD TOTALS DAY WEEK YEAR
PROPERTY SALES 78 307 21,073
MORTGAGES 82 330 24,691
FORECLOSURE NOTICES 66 93 8,703
BUILDING PERMITS 0 837 43,174
BANKRUPTCIES 63 240 14,142
BUSINESS LICENSES 17 75 6,476
UTILITY CONNECTIONS 25 139 13,650
MARRIAGE LICENSES 10 77 5,146

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