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Retail sales rise 1.1% in February

BY Alaric DeArment

WASHINGTON — Retail sales for the month of February rose by 1.1% seasonally adjusted month to month, according to figures released Wednesday by the Department of Commerce.

The newly released figures include nongeneral merchandise categories, such as automobiles, gas stations and restaurants; excluding those, sales rose 0.7%, while rising 0.5% unadjusted year over year. The National Retail Federation noted that sales beat estimates as consumers adapted and adjusted spending in response to higher gas prices and the payroll tax increase.

"Retail continues to show its importance to the economy," NRF president and CEO Matthew Shay said. "That said, our consumer research consistently shows a cautious shopper that is making tough spending decisions based on economic uncertainties, lower paychecks and higher prices for things, such as gas. This is particularly true for those making $50,000 or less a year. While retail sales numbers indicate good momentum for the economy, consumers with less earning power may continue to face ongoing pressure, and retail sales will encounter further challenges as sequestration takes full effect in March."

Health and personal care stores’ sales were flat seasonally adjusted month to month, and decreased 2.9% unadjusted year over year, while general merchandise stores sales saw a 0.5% increase adjusted month to month and a 4.7% decrease unadjusted year-over-year.

Guggenheim Securities analyst John Heinbockel noted in a report that overall retail sales, excluding cars and fuel, increased 4% in February, flat compared with January but below the 4.6% increase in February 2012.

"In such a moderating growth environment, we have an ongoing preference for more defensively positioned retailers, those with more consumables-oriented business mixes and average to below-average valuation levels," Heinbockel wrote, adding that Guggenheim would continue encouraging the buying of dollar store and pharmacy retail stocks, with the idea that both channels would continue generating above-average profit growth beyond the first quarter.

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Meryl Streep appears in colorectal cancer-screening campaign

BY Alaric DeArment

LOS ANGELES — Actress Meryl Streep will encourage people to get screened for colorectal cancer in a new series of public service announcements from the Entertainment Industry Foundation’s National Colorectal Cancer Research Alliance and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the groups said Wednesday.

The PSAs will premiere Wednesday on ABC’s "Katie!," hosted by Katie Couric, who cofounded the EIF NCCRA, and are part of the CDC’s Screen for Life campaign, a multiyear effort to educate Americans about the importance of regular colorectal cancer screening for men and women ages 50 years and older.

Streep is the third Oscar-winning actor to appear in the Screen for Life campaign, after Morgan Freeman and Diane Keaton.

"For me, screening was simple and quick," Streep said. "It was no big deal, except for the huge sense of relief you feel afterward."

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Weis Markets re-ups CEO contract with new five-year term

BY Michael Johnsen

SUNBURY, Pa. — Weis Markets has re-upped president and CEO David Hepfinger’s contract with a new five-year deal, according to an 8-K filing made Wednesday. 

The new contract is retroactive to March 1 and supersedes Hepfinger’s previous contract enacted March 1, 2010. 

Weis shares were up slightly by 26 cents to $41.02 in mid-morning trading.

The contract extension announcement comes one week after Weis reported 52-week 2012 sales of $2.7 billion, down 1.9% compared to the 53-week year ago period. "We continue to operate in an economy significantly impacted by slow economic growth, high unemployment and declining household income," Hepfinger said. "We successfully worked through these challenges by efficiently managing and improving our stores and supply chain, which helped us drive strong net income increases and maintain our market share."

Hepfinger noted that Weis has been making "record investments" into its store base and will continue that investment into 2013. 

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