Stimu-less

Government checks won't bail out retail.

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I'm getting married next month (hi, babe!), so my government stimulus check has been dutifully allocated to support America's burgeoning flowers-invitations-catering industrial complex. But it seems that a lot of you are being a little more responsible.

A monthly survey released today by the National Retail Federation and BIGresearch shows that 40 percent of us will spend our checks to inject some $42 billion back into the economy. That's good news for the economy.

Yet what we'll spend it on is less encouraging for the already fearful retail sector.

Unsurprisingly, food and gasoline top the list, as prices for everyday necessities continue to creep upward. Some 17.2 million people plan to spend some of the rebate at the pump, up from 12.1 million in February. About a quarter of the cash will go to pay down debt, and about a fifth will be saved, according to the survey.

Companies say they've yet to see any sign that government largess is trickling into their coffers.

Wal-Mart, which reported earnings today that included lowered second-quarter sales guidance, backed that view. CFO Tom Schoewe said on the company's earnings call that there's no way to gauge the impact of those checks so far.

The losers, according to the NRF, will be furniture, autos, and services like spas and salons, as little luxuries and big expenditures will get put on hold until the economy improves. Also, sales and discounted merchandise are pressuring profit margins at a host of names ranging from luxury chains like Saks and Neiman Marcus to midpriced names like AnnTaylor and Limited Too.

Maybe I can still find a really cheap suit before the big day! (Just kidding, hon.)