Retailers report strong February sales

Consumers’ rising confidence gave the nation’s retailers their third straight month of solid sales in February, The New York Times reports.

Warmer weather, tax refunds, and more appealing spring fashions contributed to the upbeat results issued Thursday. February’s performance followed a robust January performance and a better-than-expected holiday season, the Times reports.

“Consumers are definitely feeling better,” Todd D. Slater, an analyst at Lazard Freres & Co., reportedly said “They are more upbeat about their jobs. They have more liquidity, and they’re much more compelled by the fashion offerings.”

The release of retailers’ results coincided with a Labor Department report that the number of people filing new applications for unemployment benefits dropped last week, the Times reports. That’s an indication companies may be feeling more confident about the strength of the economic recovery and less inclined to reduce their payrolls.

For the work week ended Feb. 28, new filings for jobless benefits fell by a seasonally adjusted 7,000 to 345,000, the lowest level in two weeks. The decline was a bit larger than the decrease of 5,000 some analysts expected.

Job worries have been a big concern among consumers, particularly the low- to middle-income earners. But Thursday’s results indicated that this group is feeling better about their finances, although job growth has been relatively weak.

Wal-Mart Stores Inc., the world’s largest retailer, announced a 6.2% gain in same-store sales in February.

Target Corp., helped by strong sales at its discount division, had a 7.5% increase in same-store sales.

Meanwhile, mall-based apparel stores and department stores enjoyed a strong performance, the Times reports.

J.C. Penney Co. Inc. posted a 12.1% increase in same-store sales at its department stores. The company reportedly said sales were strong across all merchandise divisions thanks to a strong response to Valentine’s Day and Presidents Day store events.

At Sears, Roebuck and Co., same-store sales in its domestic business were up 1.1%. Federated reported a 9% same-store sales gain.

Limited Brands posted a 5% increase in same-store sales.

Gap Inc., helped particularly by robust sales at Banana Republic, had a 12% increase in same-store sales for the month.

At Ann Taylor Stores Corp., same-store sales were up 15.3%.

Upscale stores also reported strong sales gains.

Nordstrom posted an 8.8% increase in same-store sales. And Saks Inc. said Wednesday it had a same-store sales increase of 14.7%.