Commerce Dept.: Health, personal care store sales up year-over-year, year-to-date sales down slightly over 2012

Analyst sees signs of possible growth to come

WASHINGTON — Seasonally adjusted retail sales increased by 0.6% in April over last year, while unadjusted retail sales increased 3.9%, according to numbers released Monday by the Department of Commerce.

The figures, which exclude cars, gas stations and restaurants, showed that retail sales for the month increased 0.1%.

"In the face of higher taxes and sequester, consumers provided the economy a bit of a reprieve this month," National Retail Federation president and CEO Matthew Shay said. "Despite colder spring weather and an early Easter, consumers shopped in April, demonstrating an inherent resiliency even as the economy faces serious headwinds, including stagnant job and wage growth."

The report did not include the latest figures for retail pharmacies in particular, but the health and personal care stores category showed sales of $22.693 billion, a slight uptick from last April's $22.686 billion; the four-month total for the category of $91.5 billion represented a 0.5% decrease from the first four months of last year. Supermarkets had sales of $46.3 billion for the month, up from $46.1 billion the year before, while the four-month total of $188.1 billion was 2.2% higher than the same period last year.

Some analysts saw the data as a sign of good things to come for the retail industry.

"A meaningful sequential up-tick in April retail sales — from upwardly revised March results — is a clearly positive data point," Guggenheim Securities analyst John Heinbockel wrote in a note to investors, adding that dollar stores would have the best risk-reward profile in the sector. "We would also note that various discretionary categories strengthened while the more defensive consumables categories weakened. Given that weather, though better than prior months, was still challenging in April, spending momentum may well improve further over the next two months before moderating again."

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