Retailers See the Green Shoots of Spring

Was it an early Easter -- good weather after bad? A comparison to last year's numbers, which were abysmal all around for retailers? Or were consumers just tired of their belt-tightening, penny-pinching ways, at least for now?

April 9, 2010
By Dees Stribling, Contributing Editor

Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons user wellohorld

Was it an early Easter — good weather after bad? A comparison to last year’s numbers, which were abysmal all around for retailers? Or were consumers just tired of their belt-tightening, penny-pinching ways, at least for now?

In any case, U.S. retailers had a bang-up month in March, no matter whose numbers are consulted. According to Kantar Retail, the year-over-year increase was 9.2 percent; the International Council of Shopping Centers calculated a 9 percent rise; and Retail Metrics put the increase at 8.7 percent. All of those number exceeded expectations.

“Everything from the weather to the calendar helped drive more shoppers into retail stores in March,” noted Kantar senior economist Frank Badillo in a statement on Thursday. “There will be let-up in April, but sales should hold up better than might be expected given the ongoing recovery in spending plans by shoppers.”

Bed, Bath and Beyond the Recession

Some survivor retail chains are already eying the day when major growth will be normal again. Bed, Bath and Beyond Inc., which has endured the last few years in reasonably good shape–unlike the defunct big box operations of Linens ‘n Things–outlined its growth ambitions this week.

“In fiscal 2010 we anticipate opening a total of approximately 60 stores,” co-chairman Warren Eisenberg said during this week’s conference call. “We continue to… evaluate new store prices, as well as continue to review our existing locations and lease terms for opportunities to relocate and/or right size our stores in response to changing market conditions. We believe throughout the United States and Canada there is an opportunity to open in excess of 1,300 Bed Bath and Beyond stores, as well as grow the Christmas Tree shops and buybuy BABY concepts from coast to coast.”

The company reported that net sales for its fiscal 2009 (ended February 27, 2010) were $7.8 billion, up 8.6 percent from the year before. Comparable-store sales, an important metric in the retail business, were up 11.5 percent year-over-year. The company currently operates 966 Bed Bath and Beyond stores, 61 Christmas Tree shops, 30 buybuy BABY stores and 45 stores called either Harmon or Harmon Face Value.

Greenspan, Bernanke on the Speaker Circuit

Federal Reserve chairmen past and present have been speaking a lot this week, putting forward an assortment of statements that only history will be able to judge. Former chairman Alan Greenspan, for instance, continued to beat the “it’s not my fault” drum. Or at least 70 percent not his fault.

Current chairman Ben Bernanke made historical comparisons when he spoke on Thursday after receiving an award from the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress. “In the current episode, in contrast to the 1930s, policymakers around the world worked assiduously to stabilize the financial system,” the chairman asserted. “As a result, although the economic consequences of the financial crisis have been painfully severe, the world was spared an even worse cataclysm that could have rivaled or surpassed the Great Depression.”

Wall Street had a modest up day on Thursday, with the Dow Jones Industrial Average gaining 29.55 points, or 0.27 percent. The S&P 500 advanced 0.34 percent and the Nasdaq reported a 0.23 percent gain.