Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Higher sales forecast despite rising gas prices

Analysts are predicting positive results in spite of the sharply higher cost of fuel when many national retailers report their April sales figures this week, according to reports out today.

That would be welcome news for an economic recovery that's been shaken recently by higher-than-expected jobless claims, higher commodity costs and higher retail prices for many consumer goods.

Ken Perkins, of Retail Metrics, expects a 7.6 percent jump in same-store sales in an index of major retailers. He predicts the rise will be led by double-digit sales increases at discounters and teen apparel retailers. Wayne Hood, of BMO Capital Markets, is predicting an 8.2 percent bump, largely driven by discounters and club stores.

The late Easter holiday this year was expected to shift about 1 to 2 percentage points of growth from March into April's results. Sales at major retailers rose 2.2 percent in March.

Both Perkins and Hood acknowledged that lousy (and in many places, tragic) weather likely dampened consumer demand in April. And gas prices, spiraling up in a sickly echo of 2008, are also expected to rein in consumer spending.

(Downer note: At the current rate of increase, we're two weeks away from paying $4 a gallon for regular in the Charlotte metro area). Perkins wrote in his forecast that gas prices "are near record levels set in the summer of 2008 and at the psychological level where consumers change spending patterns." Even if retailers meet estimates for April, it remains to be seen how they'll weather the summer.