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Shoppers flock to stores in February.

NEW YORK--Neither El Nino-driven rainstorms nor deadly Florida tornadoes nor Asian financial gloom could keep U.S. consumers from their appointed rounds of shopping at retail stores in February.

By one measure, February's 5.4 percent comparable-store increase was the highest in four years. Analysts said the main reason for the increase is that consumer shopping patterns have changed: they are buying when they want to, not when retailers expect them to.

According to a Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi (BTM) tally of 85 stores with sales of $32.4 billion, comparable-store sales rose 5.4 percent in February from the same month last year.

February's figures show "pretty good strength across stores and segments," said BTM economist Mike Niemira.

Analysts attributed the stronger-than-expected sales figures to warm weather and a sharp 9.8 percent rise in Wal-Mart's same-store sales -- the highest monthly comp-store increase in a decade for the nation's largest retailer. Also posting strong comps were Kmart at 5.6 percent above a year ago and Sears, Roebuck & Co. with a 4.7 percent gain.

Economists have been saying that favorable labor market conditions of low unemployment and rising wages continue to lift the spirits of U.S. households. On Friday, the Labor Department reported the unemployment rate dropped to 4.6 percent in February from 4.7 percent the previous month.

A sampling of retailer sales figures for February:

* May Department Stores registered a 6.9 percent increase in total sales in the four-week period ended Feb. 28, to $788.6 million from $737.6 million in the year-ago period. Same-store sales jumped 5.0 percent in the period.

* Federated Department Stores reported total sales of $1.058.4 billion for the four weeks ended Feb. 28, essentially flat from last year's $1.058.9 billion. Same-store sales for the period inched ahead 1.5 percent.

* Gottschalks Inc.'s February same-store sales fell 1.9 percent. The company said total sales for the four weeks ended Feb. 28 rose 3.1 percent to $26.5 million from $25.7 million.

* Ames Department Stores Inc. said net sales of $136.9 million for the four weeks ended Feb. 28, 1998, increased 10 percent from $124.5 million for the comparable period last year.

Comp-store sales for the period were $131.3 million, compared with $121.2 million in the year-earlier period, an 8.3 percent increase.

* Department store retailer Proffitt's Inc. announced sales for the four weeks ended Feb. 28 were $227.1 million compared to $210.8 million last year, an 8 percent increase. On a comp-store basis, total company sales increased 7 percent for February 1998.

* Lechters Inc.'s same-store sales in February rose 8.5 percent, while total sales for the four weeks ended Feb. 28 rose 6.9 percent to $27.3 million from $25.5 million a year ago. Sales of the housewares unit rose 10.2 percent to $21.8 million. Sales of Famous Brands Housewares Outlets fell 4.4 percent to $5.5 million.

* Mercantile Stores Co.'s February comp-store sales fell 3.7 percent to $160.2 million from $166.4 million a year ago. Total sales for the month ended Feb. 28 decreased 3.6 percent to $165.5 million from $171.7 million last year.

* Tandy Corp. reported sales at its RadioShack division for the month of February 1998 were $249.7 million, up 12 percent from $222.3 million last year. RadioShack's continuing comparable stores sales increased 11 percent when compared with the prior year.

* Computer City sales increased 5 percent for the month to $154.4 million from $146.6 million. Compstore sales decreased 1 percent from the prior year.

Overall, Tandy Corp.'s continuing retail sales were $404.1 million for February, up 10 percent from $368.9 million last year. Combined RadioShack and Computer City comps rose 6 percent for the month.

* Tops Appliance City Inc.'s same-store sales rose 3 percent in February. The consumer electronics/appliance retailer said total sales for the four weeks ended March 3 were $19.4 million, down 6.3 percent from $20.5 million a year ago.
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Author:Ryan, Ken
Publication:HFN The Weekly Newspaper for the Home Furnishing Network
Date:Mar 9, 1998
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