Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

U.S. Retailers Report Strong January Sales

Newspaper article THE JOURNAL RECORD

U.S. Retailers Report Strong January Sales

Article excerpt

NEW YORK (AP) -- January proved to be a better-than-expected month for the nation's retailers, who saw big sales gains as Americans bought up deeply discounted merchandise.

The strong sales reported Thursday pleased merchants who had anticipated that consumers would scale back their spending in 1999 amid expectations that global financial turmoil would slow down U.S. economic growth.

`'The economy is more robust that most people expected it would be," said Steve Paspal, senior retail analyst at Sovereign Asset Management, a subsidiary of John Hancock Funds. `'How can that not help retail sales?'' Retailers continue to benefit from low unemployment and inflation, which also have helped to raise consumer confidence. Separately Thursday, the Labor Department reported the number of Americans filing first-time applications for unemployment benefits fell by 9,000 to 292,000 last week. But even with the healthy economic climate, consumers still are value-conscious. That's why many shopped in January - which is typically considered a time to find good deals as retailers slash prices clear out their winter inventories. `'Consumers feel that the economic situation is good for them right now, but they still are frivolous spenders," said Kurt Barnard, a retail consultant and president of Barnard's Retail Trend Report in Upper Montclair, N.J. "They still need an incentive to buy, and most of the time, it's all about price." That helped discounters outperform the rest of the retail sector. Shoppers flock to stores like Wal-Mart, Target and Kmart for their affordable prices and wide selection. Department stores also fared well in January, luring shoppers with big bargains. They also benefited from seasonal winter weather, which bolstered sales of sweaters and coats. There were exceptions, notably J. …

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