U.S. retail giant Wal-Mart Stores Inc. on Thursday reported March sales that were much worse than analysts' expectations, blaming a later Easter it expects to push holiday-related purchases into April.
Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, said its same-store sales rose 1.4 percent in March. Analysts, on average, had expected the company to register a 3.2 percent increase for the month, according to sales tracker Thomson Reuters.
Same-store sales rose 0.6 percent at the company's U.S. namesake stores and 6.2 percent at its Sam's Club warehouses.
The Bentonville, Arkansas-based retailer said the lower-than-expected sales were "mostly due to the Easter shift and, to a lesser degree, inflation at a lower rate than last year in grocery."
However, the company said that a later Easter this year, which falls on April 12 versus March 23 last year, will benefit its April sales.
"Based on the initial strength of our sales this week, we expect Easter to drive April sales performance," Eduardo Castro-Wright, Wal-Mart's vice chairman, said in a statement Thursday.
In a larger scenario, analysts see encouraging signs as data show retail sale declines eased in March. About half of 31 U.S. retailers that Thomson Reuters tracks reported better-than-expected same-store sales in March. Fifty-four percent of the retailers beat analysts' expectations for the month, and 46percent missed forecasts, according to Thomson Reuters.
According to Gallup estimates, the average daily consumer spending it tracks rose from 53 U.S. dollars in mid-March to 71 dollars by the last week of the month. Gallup also said their weekly Consumer Mood Index is the most positive it has been since February 2008.
As consumer spending accounts for 70 percent of U.S. economic activities, analysts say that improved retail sales may be the key to finding a bottom to the recession.