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March retail revenue figure inches up

NEW YORK (AP) -- U.S. retailers are reporting a key revenue figure rose slightly in March, as shoppers held back on spending because of the cold weather across the nation, particularly the Midwest and East Coast, and continued fears about the economy.

Overall, 14 retailers reported on Thursday that revenue at stores open at least a year — a key indicator of retail health — rose an average of 0.6 percent, according to research firm Retail Metrics. Including drugstores, the number was slightly higher, up 1.5 percent.

"While clearly that's not a great number by any stretch, it could have been worse," said Ken Perkins, president of Retail Metrics. "Wintry weather conditions persisted deep into March depressing spring apparel, home and garden, and seasonal merchandise sales."

He expects April to be stronger, as the weather improves and customers respond to strong fashion trends such as colorful jeans. An earlier Easter, which meant one less selling day in March, will also help April results, he said.

The number of retailers reporting monthly sales figures has been shrinking. Big names like Target, Macy's and Nordstrom have recently stopped reporting. Wal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, hasn't reported monthly sales figures in several years.

Revenue in stores open at least one year is a key measure of a retailer's financial health, because it excludes stores that open or close during the year.

Retailers who do report had a mixed month, with those with more stores on the East Coast, where the weather was cold and wet, faring worse than stores on the West Coast.

TJX Cos., which operates TJX and Home Goods stores, said revenue in stores open at least one year fell 2 percent, while analysts expected a 1 percent drop. The company said that the drop was due to the weather and the Easter shift, and they expect a stronger April.

"Overall business trends improved as the weather became warmer," said CEO Carol Meyrowitz. "April is off to a good start, our inventories are in great shape, and we are seeing an enormous amount of desirable product in the marketplace."

L Brands, formerly Limited Brands Inc., the parent of Victoria's Secret and Bath and Body Works, says the revenue figure was flat, above analyst expectations for a drop, according to Thomson Reuters.

Warehouse club operator Costco Wholesale Corp.'s revenue figure rose 4 percent in March, short of expectations for a 5.2 percent rise.

Department store operator Stein Mart Inc. said revenue at stores open at least a year dropped 2.8 percent in March, falling short of Wall Street predictions. The company said sales were hurt by cold weather and an earlier Easter holiday.

"This year, more than ever, it will be important to combine March and April sales results to get a true picture of our spring selling season due to this year's Easter calendar shift," said CEO Jay Stein.

Economists monitor consumer spending because it accounts for more than 70 percent of economic activity.