NEW YORK â€” Shoppers shrugged off higher gas prices and cool temperatures to give retailers a surprisingly solid March.
Revenue reports Thursday from retailers from Costco to Victoria’s Secret extend the streak of strong spending from late last year and suggest that an improving economy and recent job growth are outweighing pressure from higher pump prices.
Retailers collectively saw a 2 percent increase over last March, the International Council of Shopping Centers said. That compares with expectations for flat revenue or a small decline.
The increase is better than it looks because this year’s late Easter depressed results by 3 to 5 percentage points, analysts say.
â€œNeither the lack of the Easter Bunny, nor cool temperatures nor spiking gas prices could keep consumers at bay,â€ said Ken Perkins, president of RetailMetrics LLC, a research firm. â€œThere is still a significant amount of pent-up demand. I think the job recovery is catching on.â€
Many stores reported revenue gains that handily beat Wall Street expectations. Target Corp. reported a smaller decline than Wall Street expected.
Saks Inc.’s sales surged beyond estimates, proving once again that the wealthy are buying status goods from Gucci bags to Hermes scarves.
Gap Inc. was one of the few big losers, reporting a worse-than-expected decline and warning of disappointing earnings. Japan’s earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis also took a toll on Gap, which operates 150 stores there.
The figures are based on revenue at stores open at least a year and are considered a key indicator of a retailer’s health.
Many analysts had expected revenue to decline slightly in March, largely because the late Easter will shift most holiday spending into April.