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Retail sales get Easter shopping boost

By Blake Ellis, staff reporter

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Retailers booked another strong month of sales in April, thanks to a rush of Easter shopping.

Because Easter was later this year -- April 24 compared to April 4 last year -- many consumers did most of their holiday shopping last month, as opposed to March.

While this provided a boost to sales, retailers have continued to post monthly gains since last August, according to Thomson Reuters' chain store sales index, which tracks 25 major retailers.

The fact that sales continued to pick up despite soaring gasoline prices last month indicates that a consumer rebound has really taken hold, said Jharonne Martis, director of consumer research at Thomson Reuters.

Same-store sales jumped an average 8.9% in April, according to the Thomson Reuters index. That's up from a mere 0.7% rise a year ago, and follows a 1.7% rise in March. Analysts polled by Reuters had expected retail sales to increase 8.2% in April. About 61% of retailers beat estimates.

"A 3% rise indicates a healthy consumer, so to see an 8.9% increase is really outstanding," said Martis. "There has been a lot of concern about gasoline prices, but consumer income has been on the rise, and that has a stronger correlation with consumer spending -- so people are still spending."

Martis said some retailers in the Midwest reported that bad weather hurt sales during the month, but strong sales in the South more than offset any weakness -- especially as it warmed up in other parts of the country.

"We had such a long winter, now that warm weather is finally here, consumers want to have a new fresh wardrobe," she said. "And we're seeing that consumers are not only willing to buy merchandise, they're willing to pay full price."

Where people shopped: The apparel sector -- which doesn't include discount chains -- posted an average 9.6% jump in sales. Limited (LTD, Fortune 500) saw sales soar 20%, and even Gap (GPS, Fortune 500), which has struggled over the past year, logged an 8% sales gain.

Teen retailers benefited the most from the Easter shopping rush, with the Buckle (BKE) reporting a 14.5% increase in sales and Zumiez (ZUMZ) logging a 17.5% rise. Overall, sales in the sector increased an average of 12.6%.

But that doesn't mean that shoppers stopped bargain hunting. Discounters reported an average 12.1% increase in sales. Target (TGT, Fortune 500) saw sales surge nearly 14% in April, while BJ's Wholesale (BJ, Fortune 500) posted a 12% jump. Sales at Costco (COST, Fortune 500) rose 11%, and increased 6% excluding gas. Sales in the overall sector ticked up 12.1% in the month.

Wal-Mart (WMT, Fortune 500), the world's largest retailer, does not report same-store sales on a monthly basis. (Wal-Mart rules the Fortune 500)

Department store sales also came in strong. Macy's (M, Fortune 500) logged a 10.8% increase in sales, while JCPenney (JCP, Fortune 500) saw sales increase 6.4%. Higher-end department store Nordstrom posted a 7.6% sales gain. Overall, department store sales jumped 9%. To top of page

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