Wal-Mart investors are gloomy, but spring has sprung for many retailers

Wal-Mart Stores Inc. (WMT) may have gotten hit by the Easter bunny (it is blaming today's weak sales report on a late Easter holiday), but it expects to rebound in April. Other retailers posted decent results today, indicating that depressed consumers are getting a bit more cheerful.

Wal-Mart's March U.S. same-store sales, excluding fuel sales, fell 1.4 percent, below the 3.2-percent rise analysts expected. The stock fell 4 percent. But the news wasn't all bad.

Wal-Mart told investors to expect quarterly earnings at the high end of expectations. Sales at the flagship brands stores eked out a 0.6 percent gain.

Costco Wholesale Corp. (COST), which markets itself to middle class consumers, also disappointed Wall Street, reporting same-store sales dropped 5 percent in March because lower gas prices and the stronger dollar. Excluding those two factors, same-store sales would have increased by 4 percent. Analysts expected a same-store sales decline of 1.7 percent.

Indeed, Target Corp. (TGT) "celebrates" Easter on the same day as Wal-Mart, but the Minneapolis-based retailer reported fewer problems from Peter Cottontail. Target's March sales fell less than analysts expected. The company, though, is not ready to pop the champagne corks quite yet. Shares of Target were up.

"Our guests continue to be cautious, but we have begun to see encouraging signs in the operating results of both of our business segments," said Target Chairman, President and CEO Gregg Steinhafel in a statement. He expects April same-store sales to be essentially flat compared with last year.

Department stores were a mixed bag. Wall Street was heartened by smaller-than-expected drops in same-store sales at Macy's Inc. (M), Kohls Corp. (KSS) and JCPenney Co. (JCP). Shares of luxury retailer Saks Inc. (SKS) soared even though its sales fell worse than analysts expected.

Apparel chains, such as Abercrombie & Finch (ANF), posted double-digit same-store sales declines while teen retailers, such as Hot Topic Inc. (HOTT), showed gains.

Interestingly, casual dining chains such as Ruby Tuesday Inc. (RT) and California Pizza Kitchen Inc. (CPKI) reported better-than-expected results. The sector had been hammered amid concerns over consumer spending and commodity costs.

Easter brunch, anyone?

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