Do Strong February Sales Matter?

Despite the good news, analysts suggest caution.

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This morning brought good news for many retailers. Stores ranging from Wal-Mart to Saks impressed analysts with their stronger than expected same-store sales in February. About 40 retailers averaged same-store sales growth of 2.7 percent compared with a year earlier, according to TNS Retail Forward. That's up slightly over January's results.

But that doesn't mean it's time to break out the champagne and declare an end to the slowdown in consumer spending. Frank Badillo, senior economist at TNS Retail Forward, warned against reading too much into February's numbers, since overall trends show consumers cutting back, which he says will continue into the spring. A TNS survey found that 28 percent of shoppers said they planned to spend less in the next month as compared with last year, while only 12 percent said they planned to spend more.

A closer look at the numbers shows the discount chains doing well, suggesting that perhaps consumers are redirecting their dollars away from pricier stores in order to save money. Wal-Mart attributed its 2.6 percent same-store sales growth to brisk business in the grocery, health, and entertainment areas. Even luxury items, such as flat-panel televisions, sold well at the big-box store. Saks reported growth in men's shoes, accessories, and jewelry, while sales in women's classic apparel were weaker.

Not everyone was a winner. Chico's, Limited, and SteinMart reported negative sales of 14.9 percent, 9 percent, and 10.4 percent, respectively.

According to Thomson Financial, the warehouse club stores that have already reported—another place consumers go to save—also experienced strong growth. Costco and BJ's Wholesale beat expectations, with 7 and 5.9 percent same-store sales growth, respectively.