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Tickers in this Article: SKS, JWN, LTD, GPS, ANF, JCP, FDO
The retail carousel continued to spin last week, following March's sales results, picking up some new winners and dropping off some losers in the process.

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Overall, same-store retail sales were up a near-record-breaking 9.1% last month, though bear in mind Easter fell a little early this year, and that it wasn't clear during the comparison month - March of 2009 - that we were anywhere near a rebound. The bar was set pretty low.

Upscale Wins Big
It wasn't just that higher-end department stores Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) and Saks (NYSE:SKS) did better - they did a LOT better, increase sales by 16.8% and 12.7%, respectively. And while it may require a loose definition of the word 'luxury' to put those two retailers in the group, luxury sales were up 14.2% last month, all the same.

Tweeners Still a Mixed Bag
Though not targeting quite the same customer, the higher-end and 'tween retailers like Limited Brands (NYSE:LTD) and Gap (NYSE:GPS) also had a good showing in March. Limited Brands saw a 15.0% same-store sales increase, and GAP did better by 11.0%. Both topped expectations.

It wasn't all sunshine and roses for the trendy group though. Abercrombie & Fitch (NYSE:ANF) disappointed with only a 5.0% increase in revenue versus the expected 6.6% improvement.

Value-Oriented Retailers Struggle
An increase is obviously good news for any company, but when your increase is well under the average same-store sales increase of 9.1%, something's wrong.

Such is the case with J.C. Penney (NYSE:JCP), which saw only a 5.4% increase in March's sales figure. That wasn't the absolute worst year-over-year showing in this hot industry, but it was one of the weaker performances, which is something of a surprise, considering the edge the retailer should have in the Easter shopping market.

Retail Reality
Though some retailers clearly did better than others, nearly all of them that made public estimates regarding March's result said the same thing regarding April's numbers, not to expect the same kind of strength. The calendar and easy comparisons set March up as a slow-pitch softball.

That said, even with the effort to talk-down April expectations, some analysts point out that the pace of consumer spending has been getting stronger for six months, and they're expecting the combined March/April period to still be stronger than the same two-month span last year.

A 'wait and see' approach may well be the wise move here, however.

The Bottom Line
Even though year-to-date same-store sales are up for most retailers like they were in March, there's still plenty of evidence that consumers remain value and bargain-oriented, and are not as eager to spend as last month's numbers would suggest. Remember, even the year-to-date comparisons to last year are comparing retail sales to a time when the economy and retail spending was still in shambles - it would take little to top those figures.

In fact, bargain-basement retailer Family Dollar (NYSE:FDO) saw a 3.6% increase in same-store sales last quarter (on higher foot traffic), and is looking for a 6-8% increase in the same-store top line for the current quarter, telling us that shoppers haven't quite gotten back in the 'ignore the price tag' frame of mind yet. (Insider tracking can inform your investment strategy, but it requires research and a level head. Find out what to look for, in When Insiders Buy, Should Investors Join Them?)

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