Defying optimism, retail sales post a 10th month of decline
NEW YORK - Although consumer confidence may be increasing, it's not showing up at the cash register yet. Many retailers posted disappointing May sales yesterday, and food and necessities remained high on shoppers' lists.
Nationally, same-store sales fell 4.6 percent, according to a retailing survey. The figure, the 10th straight month of declining sales, was worse than the 3 percent drop predicted.
The lower-than-expected results did not include Wal-Mart stores, which in recent months has boosted total results but has stopped reporting monthly figures for the tally compiled by Goldman Sachs and the International Council of Shopping Centers.
Last month's same-store sales had edged up with Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer.
Same-store sales, or sales at stores open at least a year, are a key indicator of retailer performance because they measure growth at existing stores rather than newly opened ones. Consumer spending accounts for about 70 percent of US economic activity.
The disappointing results countered faint signs that the gloom of recession is lifting. The Labor Department said yesterday the number of Americans on the unemployment rolls fell slightly for the first time in 20 weeks, while the tally of new jobless claims also dipped.
In May, the Conference Board's Consumer Confidence Index rose to its highest level since September. And several retailers, including BJ's and TJX Cos., indicated that traffic improved last month. But those factors generally did not translate to sales, as job worries and falling home prices are still clearly weighing on consumers.
Natick -based BJ's Wholesale Club Inc. said same-store sales fell 6.8 percent, dragged down by the effect of lower gasoline prices. But Framingham-based TJX Cos. said same-store sales rose 5 percent in May, better than Wall Street expectations.
"Consumers are out shopping, but they're looking for value," said Janet Hoffman, of the global retail practice of Accenture.